Two words that have no place in Mets discussions: “Wild Card”
I’ve heard it a bunch of places, even Ron Darlings. The Wild Card is not a term that needs to be mentioned right now, about a team that’s in first place with 18 games still to play against the biggest challenging team. The Wild Card need not be mentioned until August at the earliest. The Wild Card should never be the goal.
The division is not out of the question for the Mets. There is no doubt in my mind that the Phillies will not run away with anything. They are a team that won 93 games last year, and the Mets are at the very least 10 games better, and the Nationals are better. The Phillies play almost 25% of their games against those two teams, so it’s likely that the increased talent would shave a couple of games off the Phillies win total. The Phillies have a couple of guys injured, and aren’t all that improved over last year anyway. They had guys have career years last year, and career years often don’t get repeated. They’re even picking up guys off our scrap heap, which doesn’t say a lot for their pitching or infield depth. The Mets were criticized for having no depth and having to go with Wilson Valdez and Nelson Figueroa last year, yet the Phillies are doing the very same thing this year.
Anything can happen in a baseball season. Nothing is decided in the offseason, or in April. However, it’s going into May soon and the Mets are standing in first place. I said earlier last week that the goal I would like of the Mets is to get through this home stand with a chance to play the Phillies for first place this coming weekend. After some excellent baseball games it’s looking like it could be the Mets playing the Phillies to help lengthen their division lead.
Ron Darling had a great comment during a replay of David Wright’s bases clearing triple. As he was rounding second, Ron said “And right around here is where the monkey jumped off his back.” It’s a good start along those lines, and if the Mets could beat the Phillies, play the Reds and return home solidly in first place it’d go a long way towards erasing 2009. A lot has been made of the attendance figures at Citi Field so far, but I think a lot more of us would start making the trip to the stadium if they returned home conquering heroes and reclaiming their rightful place atop the National League East.
(To read past year’s letters, click here)
Dear Philadelphia Phillies,
You suck. That’s right, you heard me. You’re the “popular” pick to win the division, much like the Mets were predicted to win the World Series last year. You know what? It doesn’t matter. You get credit in analysts’ eyes for being there in the past, but that doesn’t actually get you any wins in 2010.
You already get one big black mark for letting Cliff Lee leave when you acquired Halladay. Now suddenly your rotational is only marginally better, at best. And you have at least as many question marks at the Mets. Sure, those questions have turned out to be exclamation points in the past, but this is a different year. Maybe Hamels was a one-hit wonder, and will continue to be merely pedestrian. Blanton has never been anything special, and Moyer had a hot spring, but is hardly a reliable product in the rotation. Happ is the one thing to hold on to, in that he had a really good year in his time up last year. There is no guarantee that that will continue, that he won’t get figured out by the league and fail to adjust, that he won’t suffer the sophomore curse.
Pedro Feliz was such a solid feature at third base that I just don’t buy that Polanco is anything more than a lateral move at best. Your bullpen is extremely suspect, and while you do have a potent offense, the Mets did match you in runs scored prior to the injury-plagued 2009. This offseason you lock up a couple of your players to long term contracts, and coupled with letting Lee go, it’s apparent you don’t have the money to fill any holes that arrive this season.
So, while you get many props for winning the division in previous years, the calendar has turned and that buys you nothing in 2010. You’re at the top of the hill but you’re teetering at the edge. All it would take is one misstep, or one good push, for you to go tumbling back to obscurity.
While I’ve enjoyed having a real rival that’s both geographical close and in the same league, I don’t know if you can keep it up for long enough for us to say that Mets-Phillies is better than Yankees-Red Sox and really mean it. The Mets have some minor injuries to start the season, so you should take advantage of it while you still can. If you can’t start getting ahead in the race, the Mets will steamroll right by you when they’re back to full strength.
It’s going to be a fun and combative year. Can you handle it?
Your bitter enemy,
Optimistic Mets Fan
You may have seen that pessimistic post on Metsblog earlier that stated the Mets should be aiming to go 45 and 20 to win the Wild Card. This is short sighted. I hate to do this, but let’s go back to 2007.
On July 27th 2007 the Mets were up four games over the Phillies and Braves in second place. They kept the hordes at bay for a month, and on August 27th were six games up, seven over the Braves, and neither team looked really good.
Then the Mets played that ill-fated series in Philadelphia where they lost four games, the lead dropping to two games and panic started to set in. The Mets rebounded terrifically winning five in a row and 10 of their next 12.
They hosted the Phillies again on September 12th with a seven game lead and plenty of reason to think that the series in Philadelphia was merely a fluke.
More so than any other reason, the Mets lost in 2007 because they lost those seven games to the Phillies. In 2009 the Mets and Phillies play eight more times. They blew their first chance at this a couple of weeks ago, allowing the Phillies to sweep them, but 65 games and eight against the leader is not something you write off. If the Mets are good enough to overcome the deficit in the wild card, they’re good enough to overcome the deficit in the division. The Phillies are bound to come back to earth, as they’re not going to play at this crazy winning percentage for the rest of the season, and now they’ve started to be bit by the injury bug as well. If the Mets can recover and run with it, it’s the division that’s waiting, not the wild card. If you’re looking for numbers or formulas, here is one for you.
There are 10 weeks left of the season, and 8 games against the Phillies. Win six of the games against the Phillies, and then play merely one game better than them in five of the other 8 weeks they don’t play Philadelphia. Win one more game, whether it’s another against the Phillies, another random game during the season, or game 163. From there the playoffs are your oyster.
Underdogs? No way!
Beltran wants us to be in first place when he gets back, and I agree.
I went out and supported the team last night, at Citi Field, in section 520 of the Promenade. I haven’t been in a couple of weeks, and it felt like returning home. This is after a trip to Yankee Stadium, which I’ll write about later, but I’m confident now to say that this is the best stadium in New York. And that’s without a Seaver statue. I’ve heard a cool idea about naming the area just in front of the bridge and above the bullpen The Piazza, which I think is a cool idea. Although, I think it might be a better name for the food court area on the Promenade behind home plate. After all, wouldn’t you look for Piazza behind home plate, not out in the bullpen?
It was a great bounce back win yesterday, after a flurry of roster moves including Carlos Beltran to the DL. This means that Wright and Castillo are the only two regulars who have not spent time on the disabled list. Daniel Murphy as well, but he hasn’t seen regular time through May, so it’s hard to count him. However, that’s the key. If Daniel Murphy is a regular player, and he’s starting to show that maybe he is, things may not be as grim as they seem. Ryan Church has been doing well since returning. Brian Schneider hasn’t been his pre-injury disasterous April self, and while he’s not Piazza and Manuel still likes Santos over him, it’s a good thing to see him getting big hits. Santos is avoiding the inevitable drop off you’d expect from a career minor league.
The only blight right now might be Tatis. He’s getting way too much playing time for playing so badly. He’s grounding into double plays at an alarming rate, and he had no place batting cleanup last night, or pinch hitting for Murphy Sunday night. Keith Hernandez has been pointing out how messed up his swing is from last year for weeks. Give him a rest, and lets get Evans some outfield starts. He was starting to hit in the minors, and he has some power. I know he’s as right-handed as Sheffield, but he could be a good solution to who to play when you rest Sheffield, who needs a lot of rest to contribute much to this team.
So, are the Mets underdogs? I say no. The Phillies are having injury problems as well, and they weren’t as good a team to begin with. So instead of trying to tread water, not lose ground, and hope everyone comes back healthy, I say go out there and ride the guys that are hot, and take back this division. Maybe Santos will drop off, maybe Murphy won’t hit .300, but they’re hitting now, and there is no reason we can’t win now. Especially if Nieve is serious about being good. Redding drops some decent games on us, Livan seems to be acceptable. Santana is Santana, and hopefully Pelfrey is just having a blip in his early career. There is hope for Perez and Maine coming back, and there is always Niese in the wings. The bullpen is still excellent, as long as Manuel recognizes the need for rest, and Parnell can make the proper adjustments. It seems like he can, Parnell really does look like a serious player. He probably could use some days off, as could Feliciano, but I have confidence in those guys if they don’t get burnt out.
Isn’t it nice how a nice walk off win, and Wright’s first walk off homer, can really help erase the pissed off feelings of earlier in the game? Now they’ve won two of three and a series, and they’re looking up again. Can they keep it up, even with the bullpen doing what it’s doing?
I certainly hope so, and with the Phillies and Cole Hamels, the supposed ace, losing again it is increasingly obvious that the other teams don’t matter. If the Mets play well, they make the playoffs, if they don’t..they could still make the playoffs, but it’s less likely.
Schoeneweis, who seems to get underused by Manuel, looked utterly perplexed when that home run left the yard to tie the game. Santana was probably equally perplexed, not getting a decision yet again.
Yesterday, Pedro gave up two home runs, but otherwise looked pretty good. Provided he stays healthy, which is always a question mark with someone his age, I think he’ll be good down the stretch. Keep in mind he hasn’t really pitched regularly to major league batters in two years. Getting back into the mindset and mentality of pitching major league games again, and outsmarting batters will return a bit of the Pedro magic. Adjusting to the minute changes that seem to happen to strike zones year to year will also come into play, and I suspect Pedro will have a terrific September and be a big part of the Mets push to the playoffs.
We got the one game, which of course is less than optimal. However, we retain a comfortable four loss lead in the division. This was a much more important series for them than for us. Had the Mets won two, the Braves would be six back and in trouble. Now they’re not as much in trouble, but like they have for the past three months, they’ll be playing a series this weekend for third place.
Worry-warts are saying that this is the same old Mets team, struggling against the Braves. I think differently. That particular struggle was put to rest last year. The reason the Mets are 4-8 against the Braves this year is precisely that they’re not that good. The flip side is that the Braves know that the Mets are the team to beat, and they don’t seem to have any sort of struggles in playing the Mets. While the Mets see the Braves as just one of the teams they have to hold off, the Braves see these games as must wins. The Braves know that they have to beat the Mets to get to the top, and they play these games appropriately.
The Braves have to play this games this hard, because they’re not that good. They know they need to get through the Mets to win the division, because even winning what they have against the Mets, they’re not in first. If the Mets had even split these 12 games with Atlanta, I’d probably be discussing resting players already. All is not lost though. The Mets have two options that they can very easily take. The first is to start playing like they’re capable, beating teams left and right, starting with the Marlins this weekend. If they play strongly, there is no way the Braves can catch up. The other option is to play the six remaining games against the Braves hard, and put the distance between them that way.
The Mets have the capability to play well, and to win this division. They are easily the best team in at least the East, if not the whole league, and when they play well no one else has much of a chance.