Archive: October 9th, 2009

Difference Between Mets and Champions

After 162 Mets games, I forgot how much fun it was to watch good, hard-played, exciting baseball games. Right there, one of the key differences between the Mets of 2007-2009 and championship teams.

Not yet a week into the postseason, and we’ve already seen “championship baseball” at its best. How many times in the past three years have we seen similar passion and tenacity from the Flushing Futiles, as we’ve witnessed from the Twins and Dodgers? Even in losing, the Tigers put out a tremendous effort in what may go down as one of the most exciting one-game playoffs of all-time. Sure, you can say these teams are playing at a notch above because it’s the postseason — but are they “dialing it up” from their usual 9 to 10 or are they usually at 10 and breaking the knob to find 11?

Some other differences noted while watching these championship clubs:

Pitching

john-lackey
John Lackey is the pitcher the Mets keep waiting for John Maine to be — not in terms of style, but in performance / results. In other words, the 7-8 inning pitcher, with occasional spurts of greatness, but otherwise a very solid #2 starter.

The difference between Lackey and Maine: Lackey has very simple, efficient, squared-up mechanics that keep him on a straight line from the rubber toward home plate, which are the foundation to strong command of all pitches. As a result Lackey can hit spots all over the strike zone with all of his pitches. In contrast, Maine’s mechanics cause him to constantly be fighting himself and his “natural”, narrow location of up and in the righthander / up and away from the lefty.

Lackey leads an Angel rotation that has Scott Kazmir and 16-win Joe Saunders rounding out the back end. Compare those two at the end to anyone after Johan Santana on the Mets’ starting staff.

The bullpens of nearly all the postseason teams are equally impressive. Consider that the Red Sox have at least four men in the ‘pen not named Papelbon who would be closing for at least a dozen MLB teams. The Yankees have so much pitching depth that they don’t really need Joba Chamberlain. The Phillies may have an issue with Brad Lidge as a closer but their depth is such that it’s hard to find postseason innings for Pedro Martinez, Joe Blanton, and Brett Myers.

Lineups and Hitting

The Red Sox had JD Drew batting eighth and Alex Gonzalez ninth. The Yankees had Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher in the same spots. The Cardinals had Mark DeRosa 7th and Colby Rasmus 8th. Think about that. Any of those hitters would be batting cleanup for the Mets. That’s the difference between the Mets and a playoff team’s lineup.

Free Agent Signings

Bobby Abreu had some kind of year, huh? A .390 OBP, .293 AVG, 103 RBI, 30 SBs. This is the same guy who was practically begging the Mets for a contract. But the Mets were “set” in the outfield — they had Dan Murphy, Ryan Church, and Fernando Tatis. It was ironic that the Angels had a much deeper surplus of OFs than the Mets (Gary Mathews Jr., Reggie Willits, and Juan Rivera were all presumably fighting for one corner spot), yet they signed Abreu anyway — his bargain price of $5M was too good to pass up (rumor at the time was the Mets could’ve had him for $4M).

Managerial Boldness

Joe Torre has benched All-Star, Gold-Glove second baseman Orlando Hudson in favor of Ronny Belliard — mainly because Belliard is hot and Hudson is not. Can you see a Mets manager pulling a similar move in the playoffs? For example, if Jose Reyes were hitting .200 going into a playoff series, do you think Jerry Manuel would dare sit him in favor of a shortstop who was on a hot streak?

Conclusion

Watching these games a Mets fan, it’s hard not to think about your team and compare / contrast it to the teams still playing. There’s another big difference I’ll detail in a future post.

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The Big Fix and the General Consensus

After an encouraging, 83-79 season and third-place finish in 2005, the Mets appeared to be just one or two pieces away from a playoff run. The general consensus was that the Mets might have won more games had someone other than Braden Looper been the closer. Thus, “the fix for 2006” would be Billy Wagner.

As you remember, the Mets came within one game from making it to the World Series in 2006. With Cliff Floyd aging and injury prone, the general consensus was that they needed just one clutch bat — a “professional hitter” — to take over in left field. Thus, the “fix for 2007” would be Moises Alou.

The greatest collapse in the history of baseball kept the Mets out of the 2007 postseason. When the dust settled, it was determined (by the general consensu) that the Mets needed an “ace” pitcher, or “stopper” — one who would prevent losing streaks. Thus, “the fix for 2008” would be Johan Santana.

Yet another collapse kept the Mets from making the 2008 playoffs. All fingers pointed to the personnel in the bullpen — the general consensus was that the Mets needed a bullpen makeover. Thus, “the fix for 2009” would be Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz.

So here we are at the end of the 2009 season and again the Mets are not playing meaningful games in October. The general consensus is that injuries were the reason. Thus, “the fix for 2010” is …. to be healthy?

Yes … and no. While in the past there was “only one piece missing”, or “one issue to address” (according to the general consensus), today there are several:

– a #2 starter
– a power-hitting left fielder
– a Major League caliber catcher
– a power-hitting first baseman
– a return to health for Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Johan Santana, and the rest of the cavalry

Yes, some will argue that Omir Santos can be the #1 catcher and Daniel Murphy the first baseman. But I’m going with the low-level general consensus — the one that has driven the Mets’ offseason strategy for the past several years. And the “general consensus” believes the Mets need to fill those positions with new personnel.

Going from “one” issue to three or five is a big difference. And as we’ve seen in the past, addressing that “one” issue wasn’t enough to propel the Mets to the postseason — mainly because it was MORE than the “one” problem that the general consensus identified.

Which makes one wonder — is it really only these three, four, or five issues that need to be addressed? Of course not. Beyond the above generalities suggested by the mainstream, the Mets also still have a big problem with their bullpen (both the personnel and the management of it); there’s the issue of David Wright’s power shortage; many question the team’s overall mental approach / intestinal fortitude; the team needs to improve its fundamentals and execution; and the starting rotation is riddled with question marks –including Johan Santana, who is coming off elbow surgery and therefore no sure thing.

In the past, the Mets failed to build a championship team despite needing “only one or two pieces to complete the puzzle”. But this time around we should expect them to fill multiple holes and deliver a postseason appearance? That might be somewhere between wishful thinking and fantasy land.

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