Monday, October 02, 2006

Mets – Now What?

As a Met fan, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this season. The boys from Flushing grabbed hold of the Eastern division early, then ran away and hid from everyone else. Clinching the title, earlier than any other team is baseball, was merely a formality, confirming what was inevitable since well before the All-Star break.

Right after the clinching, their play slipped a bit, which was completely understandable. The lethargic play continued as we headed into the season’s final week, right when you would hope they could build a little momentum heading into the first round. A series in Atlanta would be the perfect place to get the ball rolling again, poetically stomping over their biggest rival whom they had finally vanquished.

Game 1, a 12-0 loss. Ugh. No worries, Game 2 was the one all Met fans were pointing toward – the final tuneup for Pedro Martinez. Pedro had been erratic since his return from the disabled list, and this start was looked at as the chance to prove once and for all he was ready to go, thus take the ball in Game 1 of the NLDS.

He never made it out of the 3rd inning, leaving balls up in the zone and not really fooling anyone. It was painfully obvious he was not back in form, despite his apparent clean bill of health. Pedro himself said that manager Willie Randolph’s decision would be an easy one now, and Martinez was looking at starting Game 3. The Mets were again bombed and lost 13-1.

Shortly before the third game on Thursday, the news came down that Martinez’ calf muscle (the “good” one, no less) was torn, and he would miss the entire post-season, regardless of how far the Mets advanced. The pitching staff, already thin as far as reliable starters went, took another hit. Hearing this made me personally doubt the Mets would be able to advance through the playoffs, and forced me to think this brilliant season would be wasted with a quick playoff exit. The news that Pedro will now be sidelined until mid-2007 was a little more sobering, but fully explained his recvent ineffectiveness.

Funny thing, though. The players responded that evening with a 7-4 victory, playing one of their best games since the clinching. As the news spread through the media, intruiging stats were thrown out into the vapor. The most jarring one mentioned how the Mets actually had a losing record in games started by Martinez in 2006. Granted, he suffered through a stretch in May where he pitched brilliantly but received no run support, but since July 1st his numbers looked like this:

2 W 4 L 31 IP 27 ER 26 K 11 BB 7.84 ERA

After the initial reaction of “God we’re totally screwed”, it dawned on me that they had been without a fully functioning Pedro for a large portion of the season, and were in fact 21 games over .500 when Pedro was unavailable. Obviously, the playoffs are a different animal, but it stands to reason that given decent, not outstanding, starting pitching from El Duque, Glavine, Trachsel and Maine, they should be able to slog through the battles regardless of the opponent. The bullpen has been solid all season, and will continue to play a huge role in the playoffs. I see no reason why they will not continue to shut down opposing bats in the late innings.

Facing the Dodgers in the first round should prove to be a challenge, but one this team should be able to overcome. LA's staff is a little dinged up, and have proven to be the most hot-and-cold team in the league. Once they get past the NLDS, I forsee them taking out the winner of the St. Louis/San Diego matchup as well.

So, despite an initial reaction of fear and dread at the news of Pedro’s unavailability, I am, like the players seem to be, confident that there will be at least one New York team in the World Series, and that team will be the Mets. Will the Yankees join them? I don’t really care – I would like nothing better than to see them get smacked in the opening round by Detroit (not likely), or in the ALCS by Minnesota (more than possible) or Oakland (doubtful). Beating the Yankees in the Series would be awesome, but it really makes no difference what path the Mets take to get a championship.

Let’s go, Mets.
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