Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Flyers-Rangers: NHL Playoffs: Game 7

When it comes to sports excitement, few things can match what is about to take place in the NHL opening round between our beloved Philadelphia Flyers and the rival New York Rangers.

Game 7 elicits all sorts of images, all involving the drama of an entire season of hard work by players, and often just as hard rooting by fans, coming down to one single game. You win, your season continues. Lose, it's all over in heart-breaking fashion.

Here in America, Major League Baseball is joined by both the NHL and NBA in deciding the majority of it's important playoff series with a best-of-7 games format. Teams play one another, alternating home fields, rinks, and courts, until one or the other team has won four times. The most exciting of these series leave the combatants tied at 3 games each, leading to a decisive, winner-take-all 7th game.

That's where the Flyers and Rangers find themselves tonight at Madison Square Garden. The Flyers hard-fought victory by a 5-2 score last night at the Wells Fargo Center evened up the series at 3-3, forcing this decisive game between these longtime rivals who, despite playing in the same division, incredibly have not met in the playoffs for 17 long years.

The Flyers-Rangers series has become known as "Broadway vs Broad Street" during the nearly 40 years that the two franchise have been divisional rivals. The Rangers are one of the NHL's 'Original 6' teams, having been around since the league's inception. The Flyers came along in the first expansion back in 1967. They have met 10 previous times in the post-season, with Philly winning the last three times and now holding a 6-4 advantage.

For Flyers fans, the biggest of these previous meetings between the two clubs was also the only other one to go a full 7 games, the very first one all the way back in 1974. The Flyers and Rangers met that season in the semi-finals, with the winner of that decisive 7th game set to move into the Stanley Cup Finals against Boston. The Flyers would prevail in a dramatic 4-3 game that would send them on to the Finals, where they ultimately would win their first-ever Stanley Cup.

The teams would also play a decisive playoff game in the 1986 playoffs. That was the season in which the Flyers tragically had lost young all-star goalie Pelle Lindbergh in a drunk-driving auto accident. With Lindbergh gone, the Flyers rallied behind backup goalie Bob Froese and won their division anyway. The playoff meeting with the Rangers was a best-of-5 divisional semi-final, and the two teams pushed to a decisive 5th game which the Rangers dominated by 5-2 to take the series.

The last meeting in 1997 was important in that it came in the Eastern Conference Finals, with the teams again as back in 1974 fighting to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. The series was a marquee matchup between the Flyers, led by young superstar Eric Lindros, and the Rangers, led by veteran legend Wayne Gretzky. The Flyers would win this one by an easy 4-1 to take the series, but would be swept in the Finals by Detroit.

Two years ago, on January 2nd, 2012, the two teams met in another NHL centerpiece game, the 2012 NHL Winter Classic. Played outdoors at Citizens Bank Park, the Rangers prevailed in a 3-2 game. Perhaps just as entertaining, especially for the fans, was the 3-1 victory for the Flyers in the "Alumni Game" featuring an outstanding performance by 66-year old Flyers goaltending legend Bernie Parent.

Whether it has been Bobby Clarke vs Brad Park in 1974, or Mark Howe vs John Vanbiesbrouck in 1986, or Eric Lindros vs Wayne Gretzky in 1997, the Flyers-Rangers battles have often been important, highlighted by the ever-present Philly-New York rivalry born of the two cities passionate fans living less than a hundred miles and less than a 2-hour drive from one another.

Tonight, it will be Game 7 of the 2014 NHL Playoffs opening round. One team will emerge victorious and advance to meet the Pittsburgh Penguins in the next round, taking a step forward in the battle for the Stanley Cup. For the loser, the season will end abruptly. They will pack up and head home tomorrow. We don't know which team that will be, but we do already know the picture of how it will all end: as is unique to the NHL, it will end with the Flyers and Rangers shaking hands at center ice.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

What is a Saint, and Who Goes to Heaven?

This past weekend, the Catholic Church enjoyed a rare celebration of the canonization of two of it's former leaders, John XXIII (pictured) and John Paul II. In the ceremony, both men were recognized and publicly proclaimed as saints.

We understand that sainthood for an individual bestows upon them some special designation and title, but do you really understand what makes someone a saint?

Have you ever considered the question for yourself: could I be a saint? Could someone you know, or have known, in your life be a saint?

The answer to that question leads to an even bigger one, so let's answer it quickly and get on to that bigger question. Yes, you may be a saint. Yes, you may have known saints during your life, personally and intimately. In fact, I am quite sure that every single human life is touched by saints on a regular basis.

The difference between those formally proclaimed as a "saint" by the Church and the ones that most of us encounter in our daily lives is in the process of formal recognition and proclamation, as well as the degree in which they served God during their lifetime.

Monday, April 28, 2014

What's Wrong With Donald Sterling?

For those who may have been hiding in a cave, or vacationing out in the woods, and not had access to public information over the last few days, the picture on the left and comments regarding same have been causing quite a controversy.

While the title of this article is "What's Wrong With Donald Sterling?", Mr. Sterling himself is not even in that picture. It is actually a picture of basketball legend and Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner Magic Johnson, surrounded on the left by Rachel Rodriguez and on the right by V. Stiviano.

Ms. Stiviano happens to be the ex-girlfriend of a very wealthy 81-year old man, and that old man is the Donald Sterling in question. He is the longtime owner of the Los Angeles Clippers in the NBA, and he was none too pleased, despite having a decades-long friendship with Magic, to learn that Stiviano had posted this picture to her Instagram account.

Now for those of you still behind the times, Instagram is yet another social media site, a place where folks post up pictures. What makes Instagram unique is that it has a variety of editing tools to give your photos a unique look and feel, such as the old-time look you might find in boardwalk 1800's-era pics, or turning color pics into black and white. The site also allows you to share the pics easily to other social media sites, such as Facebook or Twitter.

Stiviano apparently had the pic snapped months ago at a 2013 Dodgers game, but just recently posted it to her Instragram, along with another of her posing with Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, also a black man. Apparently a friend of Sterling saw the pictures and told him about them. This prompted Sterling to confront Stiviano in a conversation that was recorded by her, in which he demonstrated quite obviously the answer to the question posed by this article.

What's wrong with Donald Sterling? The answer is fairly easy: he is a racist. We are talking separate drinking fountains, separate bathrooms, have them sit in the back of the bus racist. Because while publicly he has glad-handed black people, donated larges sums of money to black charities, and even received awards from black organizations, deep in his heart he simply feels they are inferior. Why else would he make the comments that he made to Stiviano?

In the conversation, Sterling asks "Why are you taking pictures with minorities?" When Stiviano, of black Latino heritage herself, questions this concern, Sterling replies "Yeah, it bothers me a lot that you want to promo...broadcast that you're associating with black people." He goes on to say that she doesn't have to "..have yourself with, walking with black people" and specifically states that he doesn't want her bringing Johnson to the Clippers games as well.

Besides the obvious problems with these statements, they are completely ironic, as Sterling has owned the Clippers since 1981, and the overwhelming majority of the team's players over those three decades have been black players. In fact, the NBA itself, in which he is one of only a few dozen owners, features blacks as an overwhelming majority of it's overall player base. So Sterling has had no problem with employing blacks, or making money from the performance of black athletes.

Of course, Sterling, through others (he has not publicly responded himself yet) is circling the wagons. He alleges that Stiviano embezzled nearly $2 million from him during the relationship, that she stated she would "get even" with him, and of course there is the whole matter of her taping this conversation to begin with.

Sterling, by the way, is married. Has been for 50 years. His wife filed a lawsuit in March which states that Stiviano met Sterling at the 2010 Super Bowl and began having an affair with him. According to the Los Angeles Times, Mrs. Sterling alleges in her suit that he used community property to buy Stiviano "a 2012 Ferrari, two Bentleys and a 2013 Range Rover", worth over half a million dollars all together. The suit also alleges that he gave Stiviano nearly $2 million to purchase a duplex near the Beverly Center, a major LA shopping mall, last year, and has provided her with nearly a quarter of a million dollars in upkeep and living expenses.

As the relationship between Sterling and Stiviano has apparently finally begun unwinding in recent months, there have been a series of lawsuits and public comments. Who knows the nature of the relationship between Sterling and Stiviano behind closed doors? However, anyone with two eyes and half a brain can take a look at the old man worth a fortune, the 20-something bikini model, and add it up to the typical gold digger getting whatever she can from a rich, old man. And also, a rich old man getting whatever he can from a bikini model thanks to his wealth. It's a very old story.

However, while much is wrong with Donald Sterling using his wealth in this manner, and much is wrong with V. Stiviano using her feminine charms in this manner, those are basically character flaws. The problem that has emerged thanks to the recording is a deeper one, the problem of racism.

That any human being, wealthy or not, has a problem with their close friends, even their intimate relationship partners, simply being seen in public, posing for innocent pictures, posting those on social media, and in general simply associating with members of any minority racial, ethnic, or religious community is appalling.

Why would Donald Sterling, or anyone else of that matter, care at all that V. Stiviano or any other human being is posing for pictures at a ball game with a black celebrity, an Asian fan, a Hispanic ballplayer, or any other human being who is from any non-white background?

Now don't get me wrong, I am far from naive. We all have our prejudices. We all have our faults. But if you ever see a friend or family member hanging out with someone of another race, posting pictures with friends of other racial or ethnic backgrounds, or engaging in a relationship with someone of another race and actually feel something offensive inside, then the problem is with you, not with them.

And this problem is not going to go away simply with a bunch of lectures from public figures, or with any amount of blog articles. It is going to lessen only when the great majority of people in every single race, ethnicity, and religion stop looking at others with a label, and start looking at each person as an individual human being.

What's wrong with Donald Sterling? Frankly, a lot of things. But most certainly that he is a racist. And guess what? News flash: he is far from the only one out here. And that number does not only include whites, it includes members of every racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual background that you can name. Judge Donald Sterling properly, as he deserves. And then when you are done, take a moment, and take an honest look at yourself as well.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Killing Jesus

A few months ago, I finished reading Bill O'Reilly's outstanding work "Killing Lincoln" about the assassination of the 16th President of the United States and the events surrounding and leading up to that event.

The book was so well written and informative that it inspired me to purchase for my Kindle his other two similar books: "Killing Kennedy", about the assassination of our 35th President of the US, and "Killing Jesus", about the events surrounding our Lord's death.

I held off actually reading "Killing Jesus" until this time of year, the time surrounding those actual events. Today is Holy Thursday, when Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Tomorrow is Good Friday, when he was nailed to a cross and died for our sins. And then, of course, Sunday is Easter, when he rose again.

But O'Reilly does the subject a most honorable turn. Despite his own Roman Catholic upbringing, and that of his co-writer, Martin Dugard, he does not approach the matter of Jesus' death, and all of the events leading up to that event, from a religious or spiritual standpoint. Instead, as with Lincoln and Kennedy, he takes a purely historical look at the events.

O'Reilly and Dugard have taken the telling of these types of important events, the untimely murder of the most important figures in history, and made them completely accessible at every level. They do this with an almost conversational tone to the story-telling, mixing in the necessary known and verifiable facts with other discernible information based on the times of the events.

The end result, in "Killing Jesus" (and "Killing Lincoln", for that matter) is a book that is well written, easily understood, and that stands on it's own as an important new resource for anyone that has any interest in the topic. And who can say that they have any interest in human history without being interested in Jesus?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Miniumum Wage: Be Careful What You Wish For...You Just Might Get It

Democrats, led by President Obama, are trying to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour up to $10.10 per hour. Many Republicans have come out against such an increase.

Efforts such as raising the minimum wage are attempted, not to help the poor or middle-class, but to wage (pun intended) a continuing political and ideological war within the United States of America. It's not about compassion. It's about power, plain and simple.

Democrats believe that their continued, traditional use of buzzwords and terms such as "living wage", "fairness", and "equity" will keep certain segments of the population voting their way in elections. They count on it to keep them in power. Their main carrot to garner and control these votes is the oldest in the book: they pay for them.

Many people want, and a surprising number of people even expect, something for nothing. They feel that government owes them something, including money, food, medicine, transportation, and much more, with nothing expected in return. This is the mentality behind the support for a raise in the minimum wage.

Now supporters of that effort will try to sell you that such an increase will help everyone. That minimum wage earners are helped by making more money. And other workers will then have their own wages also raised to keep them ahead of these entry-level and lesser-skilled workers.

Frankly, that is a farce. What does indeed happen when wages are artificially, forcibly increased is that companies cut back and/or raise prices. They hire fewer people, meaning less opportunity. They raise prices on their goods, meaning more money out of the pockets of those who just had their wages artificially raised.

No company is just going to accept any increase, be it in forced wage increases, greater taxes, or anything else, without eventually passing that increase on to it's customers. Forcing wages up artificially means that we will all pay more. Meanwhile, fewer jobs will be available for that lesser skilled workforce.

President Obama and his Dem cronies will try to tell you that the minimum wage needs to be raised to $10.10 per hour in order for Americans to meet their vision of a certain standard of living. They say that it will be good for everyone. But they ignore a fundamental flaw in their argument.

If $10.10 per hour is good for Americans, why not $11 per hour? Why not $15 per hour? Heck, why not a minimum wage of $25 per hour? If minimum wage workers earned much more, wouldn't they spend more, helping the economy more? Why is $10.10 just right?

They stop at $10.10 per hour because it is a figure at which their own studies have shown that business will take the increase with a minimum of job cutbacks. There will still be cutbacks, layoffs, and other ramifications. But they will be minimal when compared to the expected political gain of tens of millions flocking to the polls on the Dems behalf.

Meanwhile, back at the minimum wage worker home, many of those actual workers will be losing their jobs, rather than ever seeing that increase. Companies will simply make due with fewer employees. Sure, some workers pay will increase. But how does that help the individuals trying to get a start, or supplement an income, or pay for school books, who once had a $7 per hour job and now have none?

When Democrats pass programs that increase handouts, giveaways, and other "benefits", their supporters seem to think that it will be the "wealthy corporations", the "rich", the "well off", who will be paying. But what the Dem politicians, labor leaders, and others will never tell them is the truth.

The truth is that every time the government spends more money, something has to give, and that something will be a hit to every single consumer and American worker's pocketbook. Every time the government forces economic sanctions on the economy, something has to give, and that something is usually jobs.

Every family is hurt by increased prices, higher taxes, fewer jobs. Those are the ultimate prices of forcing changes on the American economy such as an increase in the minimum wage.

Now, am I against people making more money? Absolutely not. Stay in school. Don't waste your life. Be willing to work hard for minimal pay when young. Get more education, in a field where opportunities are expected to be available. Be flexible in life, willing to go where the opportunities are located. Do not depend longterm on a minimum wage job as the primary source of income for you and/or your family and expect to support cable TV, cellphones, and restaurants.

Minimum wage jobs were not created for, and have never been intended as, the primary lifetime career of the principle wage earner in a family. They were intended for young people just starting out in the work force, for retirees looking to supplement pensions, for management trainees looking to gain boots-on-the-ground experience.

If the federal minimum wage is raised, it will result in fewer jobs, greater unemployment. It will result in higher prices to those who do indeed get to keep their job with that increased wage. Those who want the minimum wage raised should be very, very careful. They just might get what they want. That is going to be very different than what they believe, and what they are being sold by lying politicians.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

MLB 2014: National League East

He is the most outwardly competitive star player that the game has seen since 'Charlie Hustle', Pete Rose himself, retired back in the late 1980's.

He has been a phenom, a young stud destined for baseball superstardom, since he was a teenager and appeared on the cover of "Sports Illustrated" at age 16.

He is Bryce Harper, the leftfielder for the Washington Nationals, and the things that his talent and competitiveness can accomplish on the diamond are the main reasons that the Nats won the NL East in 2012, when he was chosen as the National League Rookie of the Year. They are the same reasons to pick Washington to get back to that lofty perch this season.

Harper will play the entire 2014 season still at just age 21, an age when many are still in college, and when most players are still trying to fight their way on to a big league roster. But he already is nearly two years into his MLB career.

His 22 homers, 18 steals, and 98 runs scored helped to earn him that 2012 ROY. His numbers were not nearly as impressive a year ago, but it was not due to any jinx of a sophomore slump. Harper crashed into a wall in May after getting off to a torrid start. He was never the same, losing nearly a month and 100 plate appearances.

Now back for more, he is bigger and stronger entering the 2014 season. If he manages to stay healthy, something that may always be a challenge given that he plays the game as if his hair is on fire, there is no reason that he cannot approach NL MVP-caliber numbers.

Here are my predictions for the National League East in 2014:

1) Washington Nationals
The Nats franchise was born as the old Montreal Expos in a 1969 expansion, and played their first 36 seasons north of the border before moving to the U.S. nation's capital for the 2005 season. They became an NL power in the late-70's and into the early-80's, when they won their first NL East crown in 1981. But that was to be their only sustained success. Ever since losing out on a possible 2nd great season due to the baseball strike of 1994, the old Expos were never able to get competitive, and it ultimately cost Montreal it's franchise. The Nationals continued to struggle after the move south, but emerged to win the franchise 2nd NL East crown in 2012. Now loaded with strong young players, they have to be considered at least divisional co-favorites for 2014. The above mentioned budding superstar that is Bryce Harper is one reason. He plays left in an outfield that also included speedy Denard Span in center, and veteran Jayson Werth in right. They have speed, power, and play excellent defense, and when healthy are among the handful of best all-around outfields in the game. The infield is no slouch either. The corners are manned by Adam LaRoche at 1st and Ryan Zimmerman at 3rd, a pair of true talented veteran professionals and leaders. Ian Desmond is a budding star at shortstop. At 2nd base, young Anthony Rendon will try to finally establish himself as a regular by holding off Danny Espinosa. Most of the bench production will come from the Epinosa/Rendon combo, as well as Nate McLouth and Kevin Frandsen. The Nats pitching is strong as well. The rotation is strong and deep, led by the quartet of Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, and Doug Fister. There is plenty of rotation depth if injuries hit, with arms such as Tanner Roark, Taylor Jordan, Ross Detwiler, and Craig Stammen. Rafael Soriano is a solid, proven closer, and he has Tyler Clippar, Drew Storen, and Jerry Blevins to support him. The Nats should be able to hold off the Braves in a tough NL East battle in 2014.

2) Atlanta Braves
Before the season even began, the Braves suffered the kinds of losses to their pitching rotation that would decimate most clubs and completely derail their seasons. But Atlanta has always had pitching depth, and 2014 is no different. The losses will make things more challenging, but there is plenty of talent remaining to keep them both a divisional and Wildcard contender. With both Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy gone for the season due to Tommy John surgeries, the club signed free agent Ervin Santana. He will join a group that still includes exciting young Julio Teheran, tough lefty Mike Minor, talented opportunist Alex Wood, and either David Hale or Aaron Harang. Minor is battling minor (no pun intended) problems and began on the DL as well, but will be back no later than May 1st. The bullpen is led by perhaps the best closer in baseball in fireballer Craig Kimbrel. He is supported by the talented group of Luis Avilan, David Carpenter, and Jordan Walden. Johnny Venters should be back from his own TJ surgery at some point in June. The Atlanta everyday lineup has a chance to be special, even with the loss of team leader Brian McCann to free agency. 1st baseman Freddie Freeman emerged as an NL MVP candidate last year, and new catcher Evan Gattis as one of the league's most feared sluggers. Steady Chris Johnson at 3rd, exciting young shortstop Andrelton Simmons, and veteran slugger Dan Uggla at 2nd round out the infield. The outfield features the Upton brothers, Justin in left and B.J. in center, along with Jason Heyward in rightfield. Most of the bench appearances will come from Ryan Doumit, Jordan Schafer, and Ramiro Pena. The pitching losses make repeating as division champs a challenge, but this team is talented enough still to make that happen. Any more losses, however, and they may have to fight to hold on to 2nd.

3) Philadelphia Phillies
For more than a decade from 2001-2011, the Fightin' Phils were contenders in the N.L. East division, and they actually won the division crown in 5 straight seasons from 2007-2011, including a World Series title in 2008 and a franchise-record 102-win season in 2011. But some players began leaving as free agents, others got injured and/or got old, and the team collapsed, first to the .500 mark in 2012, and then to last year's 4th place finish at 16 games under the .500 mark. It was the first time since 2000 that the Phillies finished that low, their first losing record since 2002. One of their once-vaunted group of Ace pitchers, Roy Halladay, began to lose it a year ago, and retired this off-season. So can there possibly any hope for this still aging, still hobbled group to somehow regroup for one more run? There is indeed hope, but much has to go exactly right. It starts with the trio of infield bats that carried the team for much of their successful years: 1st baseman Ryan Howard, 2nd baseman Chase Utley, and shortstop Jimmy Rollins. Howard will play 2014 at 34 years of age, while Utley and JRoll each play it at 35. Utley bounced back in 2013 to show he can still be a dangerous run-producer. Howard and Rollins don't have to equate their 2006 & 2007 NL MVP campaigns, but they do need to prove that they can again also be dangerous run-producers. Also playing it old is longtime catcher Carlos 'Chooch' Ruiz, now 35 years old himself and coming off a season in which he was suspended for PED usage. 3rd base is now manned by young Cody Asche, trying to hold off top organizational prospect Maikel Franco at the hot corner. In the outfield, the Phils signed 36-year old Marlon Byrd to man rightfield, but they do have a pair of young talents in centerfielder Ben Revere and leftfielder Domonic Brown. The bench depth comes from John Mayberry Jr, Tony Gwynn Jr, Carlos Hernandez, Darin Ruf, and Freddie Galvis. On the mound, the Phils signed veteran free agent A.J. Burnett to eat up Halladay's old innings, and he deepens the Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels-led rotation that also includes longtime organizational man Kyle Kendrick and journeyman Roberto Hernandez. Jonathan Papelbon remains a strong closer. He will be supported by a bullpen that has a lot to prove, including arms such as Mike Adams, Antonio Bastardo, Jake Diekman, and Justin DeFratus. The Phillies need a turn-back-the-clock season from their veteran bats, as well as production in their bullpen. Right answers, they unexpectedly contend. Wrong ones, they slip towards the bottom, and some of the longtime pillars may end up being dealt away as it all finally gets blown up.

4) Miami Marlins
The franchise was born as the Florida Marlins in MLB's 1993 expansion, and took on the more appropriate local "Miami" designation for the 2012 season. They have won a pair of World Series, in 1997 and 2003, both from Wildcard playoff positions. So while they have that pair of championships, and the subsequent pair of NL pennants, they have never won the N.L. East outright. They have also never tasted sustained success, as ownership blew up both Series winners immediately upon winning, never wanting to carry the high payroll that fielding a consistent winner would require. Thus the fans of the Fish have enjoyed 3 straight winning seasons just once in their history, and have never finished closer than within 6 games of a division crown. The current group may finally be building towards that sustained success. They have a pair of crown jewel building blocks in powerful rightfielder Giancarlo Stanton and pitcher Jose Fernandez, last year's NL Rookie of the Year. Centerfielder Marcel Ozuna and leftfielder Christian Yelich are two more young talents who may be longterm pieces to a winning puzzle. The club signed catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia to bring his championship experience and leadership. It's the infield where this team still needs major work before it can contend. Right now the corners of Garrett Jones at 1st and Casey McGehee at 3rd can only be considered stop-gaps. The middle infield of 2nd baseman Derek Dietrich and shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria has to prove itself. Most of the bench work will come from a mix of Reed Johnson, Donovan Solano, Greg Dobbs, Jeff Baker, and Jeff Mathis. Following up Fernandez in the rotation are a group of interesting arms in Nate Eovaldi, Henderson Alvarez, Jacob Turner, and Tom Koehler, with Brad Hand and Kevin Slowey looking for an opportunity as well. In the pen, Steve Cishek is a solid closer, and is setup by A.J. Ramos, Carlos Marmol, Mike Dunn, and Dan Jennings. The Fish could easily finish in the basement this season. But they could also start to get production from more than Stanton and Fernandez, and bolt towards 3rd place.

5) New York Mets
The Mets have been a mess for the last five years, and there does not seem to be much hope that 2014 will be the season for a turnaround. However, they have some excellent young pitching coming with which they could build the foundation for sustained success in the 2nd half of this decade. The franchise was part of one of baseball's earliest expansions, and that first team all the way back in 1962 went 40-120, the worst regular season record in MLB history. They experienced the 'Miracle Mets' World Series title in 1969, went back to the Series again surprisingly in 1973, but never became a true sustained contender until the mid-80's. That team culminated in a pair of N.L. East crowns in 1986 and 1988, and an incredible comeback win of the 1986 World Series. They again rose to contention from 1999-2001, reaching the 2000 World Series, and from 2005-08, but that last group fell far and fast. They have fallen, and they can't get up. 3rd baseman David Wright remains the veteran leader and face of the franchise, as well as just having won the 'Face of MLB' title. He is joined in the infield by shortstop Ruben Tejada, 2nd baseman Daniel Murphy, and 1st baseman Ike Davis, the latter of whom has been a major developmental disappointment. Catcher Travis d'Arnaud is finally healthy after years as a top prospect, and may be ready to take over behind the dish long term. The outfield features former Yankee star Curtis Granderson in left, defensive whiz Juan Lagares in center, and Chris Young in right. The bulk of the bench production should come from Lucas Duda, Josh Satin, and Omar Quintanilla. The Mets rotation was devastated by the loss of Ace youngster Matt Harvey to Tommy John surgery, and they will have to wait until 2015 to get him back on track. For now, a mix of ageless veteran Bartolo Colon, talented young Zack Wheeler, and organizational men like Jon Niese, Dillon Gee, and Jenrry Mejia will have to hold down the fort. There is talent there, and there is more coming from the minor leagues in the next year or so. It is a group that with Harvey's return and the debut of a couple more of the prospects should rapidly improve by 2016 at the latest. The pen is led by Jose Valverde, with closer Bobby Parnell just suffering a possibly season-ending injury. Jeurys Familia, Carlos Torres, and Gonzalez German set him up. Veteran John Lannan is around for rotation depth and long relief. The Mets just seem too dysfunctional as a mix right now to win. But when the young kid pitchers all get on track in the major leagues over the next couple years, watch out.