The Mets have now dropped eight of their last eleven games, all against teams that are under .500, most of which have been against some of the worst teams in the National League, which is to say some of the worst teams in baseball. After getting swept against Pittsburgh when they needed one win to clinch, they picked up that win in an emotionally-charged game at Shea, they won their next game (amazingly, with most of the regular starting lineup on the bench) and since that game, have only managed one win, against the lowly Washington Nationals. They got killed by the Braves tonight.
What is the deal? I’d like to say I’m not worried, but…if the Mets are suddenly not playing well against some of the worst teams in baseball history, why am I to assume that they will magically kick it into gear once the games matter? Last year, heading into the playoffs started, the White Sox won five games in a row. They managed to carry that momentum to a World Series ring. The Braves, meanwhile, entered the break having lost four in a row, and lost to the Astros in the first round. It’s only two examples, and I’m sure there are other examples of teams losing game after game, but coming together in the playoffs to win the World Series, but I don’t like the precedent. Before, they could point to the return of Carlos Beltran and say, “See, we’ve been without our best hitter,” but he was back tonight and they got shelled anyway.
On paper, the Mets shouldn’t have any trouble in the first round. During the regular season, they’ve been the best team in the NL, almost wire-to-wire. They have gone out there and dominated. But the playoffs are another matter; they’re almost another season. For one, the Mets go back down to a 25 man roster from 40. A lot of these extra breaks that Willie has been giving the guys are going to become a thing of the past. Also, a playoff roster is set up differently than a regular-season roster. The five (really, six) man rotation becomes a thing of the past. A deep bullpen is not as essential as it was during the regular season, because one of your starters becomes a reliever. Plus, it’s helpful to have an extra bat or two on the bench for the playoffs.
So what happens with the pitching? Well, I think after tonight, we can cross Oliver Perez and Heath Bell off the postseason list, as if we couldn’t already. Pedro is, at best, longshot for Game 1, and really, he shouldn’t be pitching Game 1. The Game 1 starter has to be a guy who, if necessary, can go on three days’ rest. Pedro is a mess sometimes after four days’ rest. Tom Glavine has to start Game 1, with Pedro pitching Game 2. El Duque probably gets Game 3, and I’m guessing the Mets give Steve Trachsel at least one playoff game not to screw up, and send Maine to the bullpen.
Then there’s the rest of the bullpen past Maine. Obviously, Wagner is there, and so is Heilman. Darren Oliver is the long man, and has been pretty good this year. Pedro Feliciano has had a strong year as well. And you can’t forget Chad Bradford, the Mets’ right-handed specialist. But what about Guillermo Mota? The guy has been lights-out since the Mets took a chance on him back in August. Can you really leave off a guy who may be the Mets’ best reliever in the last month? That’s seven pitchers; the Mets only need six, since Maine and Oliver can go long if needed, not to mention that Maine almost needs to be on the postseason roster, what with the injury concerns in the Mets’ rotation. I honestly do not know how to answer this question.
The Mets’ hitting isn’t hard to figure out. Lo Duca, Delgado, Valentin, Wright, Floyd, Beltran, and Green make it as starters. Chavez makes it to spell Floyd and Green when needed. You need a backup catcher; whether that’s Ramon Castro, Kelly Stinnett, or Mike Defelice depends on how healthy Castro is. Franco is Delgado’s caddy at first base (sort of like Chubbs in Happy Gilmore) and the first bat off the bench. Chris Woodward is the only other guy on the roster who can play shortstop other than Reyes.
The problem becomes, who do you carry, Lastings Milledge as another bat off the bench/reserve outfielder, or one of Mota/Bradford/Oliver/Feliciano? I think this could be the sort of decision that is the difference between winning and losing a playoff series. I think you need Lastings there, not only because getting playoff exposure at a young age can only benefit the guy, but because the Mets will need another bat off the bench, and there’s also the issue of him being the Mets only right-handed outfielder. As crazy as this sounds, even though he’s been so great of late, you almost have to leave Guillermo Mota off of the postseason roster; it’s really either him or Bradford. By the way, notice the name “Roberto Hernandez” isn’t even being brought up. What a disaster that trade was.
I hope this is just a little slump. The Mets had one of these around late June/early July, where they got smashed by the Red Sox, beaten up a little by the Yankees, and didn’t really get back into the swing of things until after the All Star break. Might Monday’s day off, the first one in over two weeks, be a good thing for the Mets? I certainly hope so. But in the meantime, it wouldn’t kill them to build a little momentum heading into that day off, would it?