Monday, September 17, 2007

Mets vs. Phillies

I had these thoughts the first time this happened, but then they swept Atlanta and things seemed to be looking up. Now however, that they have twice, twice goddammit, faced the Phillies, the team which, all year, they have had the most emotional incentive to beat, with a chance to pretty much eliminate them from post-season contention, and they haven’t even beaten them one time out of seven. It is things like this, that lead you to severely question weather or not the team has the ‘will to win,’ the ‘mental toughness,’ ‘bullpen,’ or whatever else it takes to make a serious post season run. Looking at this morning and seeing Brian Lawrence listed as the starter, leads you to wonder if they’ll even make the playoffs.

I actually attended the fiasco that was the end of the season series with Philly. Looking over the box score, there is an impressive symmetry of numbers: for every strikeout that Perez got, he gave up a walk; for every run that the Mets scored, they committed an error. Their level of play was basically miserable, but they still had the game weirdly within reach, thanks to a three run Beltran homer, until the bullpen, specifically Guillermo Mota, imploded and eliminated any chances the Mets might have had of a comeback. The bullpen is the definite, glaring weakness of the team, and one questions Randolph’s sanity for returning to Mota miserable outing after miserable outing, but, really, who else has he got? Mota has been terrible, but its not like there is some really good reliever hanging out, forgotten, in the Mets pen, that Willie Randolph is refusing to go to out of stubbornness…well, there is Joe Smith…

The problem, though, is that the Mets are not quite this terrible against teams other than the Phillies, and one can’t help but think that this goes back to Jimmie Rollins’ much publicized statement that the Phillies, and not the reigning champion Mets, were the team to beat in the NL East. This afforded everyone on both teams a nice opportunity to talk tough in spring training, and gave the beat reporters a couple free inches of minor news; it also created an extra incentive for both teams to play well against each other. In these games, the games where there was something intangible at stake, in addition to the games in the standings, the Mets played pathetically. These games, against the upstart Phillies, seem to be the closest that the Mets have faced in the regular season to a playoff atmosphere, where they will be forced to come through with the season on the line.

The notion of the ‘clutch performers’ is not taken very seriously by Sabermatricians; apparently, if you do the math, it all boils down to chance. Indeed, if this were a different sort of blog, I would probably turn to the strange kabala of statistics and match-ups to try and account for the Phillies dominance of the Mets. As it is, I can only hope that the Sabermatricians are right, and that my feeling that this is an erratic, gutless, and nervous team, unable to perform under pressure, is grossly uninformed. The Mets have enough of a lead, and an easy enough schedule the rest of the way, that they will, almost certainly, end up in the playoffs; but in the NLDS, a short series played under pressure, I am not particularly fond of the Mets’ odds.

Of course, the Phillies still have a more than decent shot at the post-season, via the wild card, in which case I would have to revise my prediction of a first round exit for the Mets. If the Phillies do, in fact make the playoffs, I think that the only thing to expect would be the NL East teams contending for the NLCS. If this does come to pass, I actually like the Mets odds: the Mets are a historically unlucky team, but Philadelphia is one of the more cursed cities when it comes to professional sports, and the Phillies regular season dominance of the Mets seems like it could be only setting the Phillies up for an extra excruciating post-season defeat--in much the same way that Smarty Jones, the last championship caliber thing to come out of Philadelphia, won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, leading the citizenry of Philadelphia to wager on him heavily for the Belmont, in which he was fairly unimpressive.

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