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:
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).
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?
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.