Daily Dose: Hello Billy, Goodbye Gary?

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Billy Wagner came off the 60-day disabled list Thursday, rejoining the Mets’ bullpen less than 12 months after undergoing Tommy John elbow surgery. He looked great while rehabbing in the minors, tossing seven scoreless innings with 10 strikeouts and zero walks, but now enters an odd situation because the Mets have little use for him now and aren’t planning to pick up his $8 million option for next season.
Wagner’s remaining contract means that he should clear waivers without a problem, which would allow the Mets to trade him to a contender willing to take a shot on the greatest left-handed reliever in baseball history still having some gas left in the tank. He’s owed another $2.5 million or so this year with a $1 million buyout for 2010, so the Mets need to eat salary to get anything in return. He’s worth a pickup, for sure.
While the Mets welcome someone back from the shelf ahead of schedule for once, here are some other notes from around baseball …


* Of course, it wouldn’t be the Mets without some trouble to go along with Wagner’s return and Gary Sheffield provided the drama Thursday by reportedly asking for an extension and then threatening to leave the team. Earlier this week Sheffield made some odd statements about not expecting to finish the season with the Mets, so his causing a stir now is hardly shocking.
He’s had a very nice season, hitting .286/.378/.468 in a part-time role for one of the best adjusted OPS+ totals in baseball history by a 40-year-old outfielder, but clearly the Mets can’t be blamed for not looking to lock him up to an extension. They pulled Sheffield back from waivers when he was claimed earlier this month, so a release is the only possible resolution if he can’t be placated.
* Cincinnati decided to put Johnny Cueto on the disabled list Thursday after he went 0-6 with a 10.63 ERA in his last eight starts. Obviously something isn’t right with the promising 23-year-old and the official word is right shoulder inflammation, although the Reds gave no indication that the injury is serious and are hoping that he can get back in the rotation when eligible to return early next month.
Cueto had followed up a very solid rookie campaign by going 8-4 with a 2.69 ERA in 16 starts prior to his implosion, so assuming that the injury proves minor the horrible recent numbers are likely to make him significantly undervalued heading into 2010. For now Micah Owings will replace him in the rotation after spending three weeks on the DL with shoulder problems of his own, but he has little fantasy upside.
AL Quick Hits: Jon Lester tossed eight innings of one-run ball Thursday for his fourth straight Quality Start … Joba Chamberlain is scheduled to make six more starts this season as the Yankees limit his workload … Nelson Cruz came off the disabled list with a homer Thursday … Jason Varitek missed his third straight game with a sore neck Thursday, so Victor Martinez filled in behind the plate … Matt LaPorta rejoined the Indians by driving in three runs Thursday … J.D. Drew went 4-for-4 with a pair of homers Thursday while batting eighth in the lineup … Jarrod Washburn served up four homers to his former Mariners teammates Thursday, giving him eight long balls allowed in four Tigers starts … Justin Morneau has flown back to Minnesota to have his inner-ear infection and dizziness examined by a specialist … Chris Duncan was released Thursday less than a month after coming to Boston in the Julio Lugo trade.
NL Quick Hits: Drew Stubbs hit a walk-off homer Thursday in his second MLB game after going deep three times in 107 games at Triple-A … Carlos Zambrano (back) threw five shutout innings in a rehab start Thursday at Single-A … San Francisco’s dominant pitching and awful hitting continued Thursday as they wasted a Matt Cain gem … Ian Stewart struck out in all four at-bats Thursday and has now whiffed in 30 percent of his at-bats overall … It took 23 starts of a 5.47 ERA, but the Mets finally cut Livan Hernandez loose Thursday … Anibal Sanchez will return from the 60-day disabled list to start Friday against the Braves … Justin Upton (oblique) is slated to begin a rehab stint Monday at Single-A … Johan Santana got stuck with another tough-luck loss Thursday despite giving up three runs in seven innings … Aaron Harang allowed one run in seven innings Thursday, but once again was left without a victory … Nick Johnson (hamstring) is likely headed for the DL if he doesn’t show improvement soon.

Astros vs. Dodgers is a match made in heaven

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A lot of people who work at the league office or who take paychecks from the Fox network probably wanted to see the Yankees and the Cubs in the World Series. They won’t admit it, of course, but I suspect that many did, as the ratings for a Cubs-Yankees Series might’ve broken modern records. If they are at all disappointed by the Astros and Dodgers winning the pennant, however, they should let that go because they’ve been gifted by a wonderful matchup from a purely baseball perspective. Indeed, it’s one of the best on-paper matchups we’ve had in the Fall Classic in many years.

Before the Dodgers went on their late-August, early-September swoon, this was the potential World Series pairing most folks who know a thing or two wanted to see. At least I did, and I don’t think I was alone. It was certainly the matchup which represented the teams with the two best regular season records and storylines at the time. While Cleveland ended up winning more games than Houston did, for the first time since 1970 we have a World Series pitting two 100-win teams against each other.

Like that Orioles-Reds series in 1970, which featured Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson and a host of other All-Stars, the Dodgers-Astros provide us with an embarrassment of big names and future Hall of Famers. Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw and Astros DH/OF Carlos Beltran are destined for induction already. Astros ace Justin Verlander may very well join them, especially if his late 2017 surge is evidence of a second career peak. Houston second baseman Jose Altuve‘s first seven years and Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen‘s first eight are the stuff upon which Cooperstown resumes are made as well. People will be arguing Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley‘s Hall of Fame case for years once he retires.

Youth is served as well in this matchup, with each club featuring a handful of the game’s best young players to accompany their big name veteran stars.

The Dodgers will bat their no-doubt N.L. Rookie of the Year first baseman Cody Bellinger second or third in the lineup every game. 2016 Rookie of the Year Corey Seager, who sat out the NLCS with a bad back, is expected to be activated for the Series where he’ll be the Dodgers shortstop. The Astros are actually an old team on paper — Verlander, catcher Brian McCann, starter Charlie Morton, first baseman Yuli Gurriel, outfielder Josh Reddick and DH Evan Gattis are all over 30 while Beltran is 40 — but young players are essential to their attack as well. Shortstop Carlos Correa just turned 23 and he’s one of the game’s brightest stars. Third baseman Alex Bregman, also 23, made the play that may very well have broken the Yankees’ back during Saturday night’s pennant clincher. Age aside, the Astros are the product of a major, multi-year rebuild and many of their players are making their first national splash this postseason.

Beyond just the names and resumes, though, the Dodgers and Astros represent a fantastic strategic matchup. The Dodgers attack this postseason has featured admirable plate discipline, with third baseman Justin Turner, right fielder Yasiel Puig and center fielder Chris Taylor all letting balls out of the zone pass them by while abusing pitches left out over the plate. Astros pitchers not named Justin Verlander, however, have lived by getting the opposition to chase bad balls. Game one starter Dallas Keuchel did this by relying on his very fast sinker. Lance McCullers pitched well starting Game 4 of the ALCS and pitched spectacularly closing out the final four innings of Game 7 mostly by virtue of his curveball, which Yankees pitchers could simply not lay off. Indeed, his final 24 pitches of Game 7 were all curves, many of them low and away. Who will give in first in this series?

On the side of things, Dodgers relievers have made a living by pumping in strikes. Particularly strikes high in the zone from Jansen and Brandon Morrow. There may be no better fastball hitter in all of baseball than Jose Altuve, however, and the team as a whole was one of the best in the bigs in dealing with gas in the zone. This was a big reason why the Astros struck out less than any team in baseball this year while simultaneously boasting the best offense in the game. The Dodgers throw strikes. The Astros make you pay when you throw them strikes. Again, something’s gotta give.

Maybe the suits in New York wanted the Yankees and Cubs. But everyone else is getting exactly what we want: a matchup of the two best teams in the game. A matchup of strength against strength. What is, from a purely baseball perspective, the best World Series we could’ve possibly hoped for.