While Yankee fans cry, kick, hiss, and moan, contemplating whether Joe Torre should be shot or A-Rod exiled, we Mets fans will ride this posteason high as far as it will take us.
Let’s face it … with Pedro and El Duque done, Cliff Floyd barely able to walk, and John Maine suddenly our #2 starter, we should be overjoyed that the Mets have made it this far, and we should have zero expectations here forward. In other words, whatever the Metropolitans do in the next two weeks is gravy.
That’s not a pessimistic view — it’s reality. In fact, the Mets have a very good chance of getting past the Cardinals, a team that is similarly banged up and literally limped into the postseason. You need to look no further than the Game One pitching matchup to see a bright light of optimism: Tom Glavine facing Jeff Weaver. Weaver had been outright released by the Angels for poor performance, and wasn’t exactly a ringer for St. Louis, either. The Cardinals, desperate for a warm body after giving up on Sidney Ponson, put Weaver on the mound every five days for no other reason than they felt Adam Wainwright wasn’t ready to leave the bullpen. As it was, the decision was a good one, as the Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen had a season-ending injury — and Wainwright has taken over the role.
With Weaver starting Game One, Izzy out for the year, and Wainwright vacating the all-important seventh and eighth innings, this series is more likely to be a battle of the bats before becoming an arms race. Considering that the Mets are as close to being an American League lineup as an NL team can be, this bodes well for the Flushing faithful. Even against Albert Pujols, I like our chances in a seven game series slugfest.
As we know, the Mets’ lineup is heavily lefty. Luckily, the Cardinals’ best lefty — Mark Mulder — is also out for the year. They do, however, have two tough lefties in the ‘pen Randy Flores and Tyler Johnson … and I wouldn’t be surprised to see both appear in every single game. Outside of lefty vs. lefty matchups, I don’t see the Mets having a hard time with the Cardinals’ pitchers … manager Tony LaRussa will be pulling them faster than a Budweiser salesman can restock shelves with new aluminum cans.
There’s no doubt that Chris Carpenter will shut down the Mets in his start. However, we likely won’t see him until Game Three, we won’t see him more than twice, and we can still win those games if he doesn’t finish what he starts. Though the Cards’ have lefty depth in the bullpen, and Adam Wainwright is looking like the second coming of Jon Papelbon as a closer, St. Louis doesn’t have much else to be nervous about. To give you an idea of their middle relief, I give you two words: Braden Looper. That’s right, Looper is their top setup man. ’nuff said.
So the goal for the Mets should be to use the home field advantage and the favorable pitching matchups in the first two games, and get off to a quick 2-0 start. Glavine needs to be good, but he shouldn’t need to be great, to win Game One. If the Mets batters and New York City fans don’t intimidate and obliterate Jeff Weaver within four innings, then we have no business winning the NLCS. Assuming that, as long as Glavine doesn’t have one of those unusual meltdowns — such as we saw in Atlanta in late July — then Game One should be a gimme.
Game Two pits our most reliable starter — John Maine — against John Maine six years from now, in the image of Jeff Suppan. Though we would love to see a return of some of the Maine magic we saw in August, all we need is a solid five-inning stint and a typical bullpen performance to take the game. Again, we’re assuming that the bats will manhandle journeyman Jeff.
After Game Two, things start to get scary. We’ll have Steve Trachsel against the best pitcher in the NL, Chris Carpenter, and then Oliver Perez against, presumably, mini-Trax, Jason Marquis. If we concede Game Three to the Almighty Carpenter, and understand that Game Four with Perez is an absolute crapshoot (with more crap than shoot likely), then Games One and Two become intensely more important — especially considering that Game Five will also be in St. Louis.
If we can come back to New York either up 3-2 or down 2-3, I have faith we’ll win two in New York and go to the World Series. It won’t be easy, and bullpen will be completely burned out, but we can do it. Obviously, anything can happen, and who knows, maybe Oliver Perez finally lets the lightning out of the bottle again and pitches a five-hit shutout, like he did against the Braves on September 6th. Or maybe Carpenter proves to be fallible, or injures himself trying to field a bunt, and we take Game Three.
Regardless of what happens in St. Louis, it is of utmost importance that the Mets strike first and take the first two games at Shea. The two-game advantage puts the Mets in a position to win even if they are swept in St. Louis, as they have enough pitching depth and offense to wear out the Cards in a seven-game series.
Willie, this Bud’s for you … let’s crush the Cards like an aluminum can (or, er, aluminum bottle?)