The Better Team
As isuzudude remarked:
The Phillies were the better team, so tip your hat and move on.
Unfortunately, ‘dude is right — the Phillies WERE the better team, and they ARE the better team, right now.
Let’s face it — the Mets are hardly the only team in MLB with bullpen issues. Heck, EVERY team in baseball has major issues with middle relief, and most are uncomfortable with their closers. In fact, according to some numbers, the Mets have one of the better bullpens in baseball, if you can believe that. So before we start clamoring for Omar Minaya’s head because he didn’t fix the bullpen before July 31st, remember that EVERYONE was trying to do the same thing.
Indeed, looking back and wondering why Omar didn’t find a way to get Scott Linebrink or Eric Gagne (for example), is akin to complaining that he didn’t get Barry Zito or Jeff Suppan over the winter. As we’ve seen, both Linebrink and Gagne have been busts — as have Zito and Suppan. So if hindsight is 20-20, Omar was correct in not giving up the farm for an arm that might not have made a difference.
Rather than the bullpen, the Mets have much deeper issues — and luckily, they can be fixed in-house. And they’re same problems that plagued them in the postseason of 2006: offense, and focus.
Forget game four in Philly for a moment … what about the first three games? No team can go into Citizens Bank Park scoring two runs a game and think they’re going to win. And when the games become a battle of the bullpens, you can’t not hit the Phillies’ middle relievers. Prior to this season, the Mets’ offense was considered — on paper — to be the strongest in the National League. We’re still waiting for the on-paper predictions to perform on-field. Those supposedly big bats didn’t score in Coors, barely scored in Wrigley, and most recently did nothing in CBP — the three easiest parks to hit in. That same lineup routinely looks overmatched by below-pedestrian (they may as well be called wheelchair-bound) pitchers such as Adam Eaton, Scott Baker, and Hong Chih-Kuo. Facts are facts, and the facts tell us that the Mets offense simply isn’t that good.
In addition to a slightly better than average (but not overpowering) offense, the Mets have suffered from a lack of focus. Throughout the season, their drive and attention span have meandered — here one day, gone the next — and the number of mental errors is flabbergasting for a team that prides itself on sound fundamentals (message to Willie: just because you want the team to be strong fundamentally, doesn’t make it so). What’s the reasoning for the lack of concentration? Is it a problem of motivation? An intrinsic inability to hold attention span? Exhaustion? Probably, a combination of all three, with the last one — fatigue — being the most likely factor recently. After all, Willie Randolph rarely rests his best players, and right now is not the time to give a breather to, say, Jose Reyes.
The bottom line is this: the series in Philadelphia meant way more to the Phillies than it did to the Mets. Randolph and his team did all they could to play down its importance, but they were operating on the assumption that they’d take two games automatically simply by showing up. Over the four games, every single Phillie elevated his game, while David Wright was the only Met to meet the challenge. The Phillies approached these games as do-or-die, with a postseason mentality, and the Mets remained calm, oblivious, and flat. It’s really hard to win when only a few of your players are going all-out on every pitch, and all 25 of the opposition is playing like it’s the last game of their lives. Don’t get me wrong — the Mets didn’t exactly roll over. But the Phillies clearly wanted to win these games more than the Metropolitans.
As a result, the month of September promises to be one of excitement. Let’s hope the Mets can find the “ON” button before it’s too late.