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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Mets are Still Dangerous

Mets' fans shouldn't despair, and Philadelphia fans shouldn't get giddy.

Why? Because the Mets aren't that far below .500 and the Phillies aren't that far ahead of the Mets. The Phils' lead is far from insurmountable.

Yes, the Mets just made a managerial and coaching change that by definition is disruptive. While speculation about the manager's fate is gone, pressure on the team remains. One of the biggest sources, of course, is the fan base and the media. Foremost among the latter is the Mike and the Mad Dog Show on WFAN, where Mike Francesa and Chris Russo offered that while Willie Randolph said that while his players didn't look or act tough the way the Phillies did, they were tough on the inside, the truth might be that the Mets don't look tough because they're not. That's pretty harsh, and I don't think it's totally fair.

Yes, the Mets are aging and are built to win now despite a relatively young nucleus of Reyes, Wright, Beltran and Santana. And the aging Mets look pretty old right now. The starters haven't pitched as well as expected (as compared to the Phillies, whose starters, with the exception of Brett Myers, have performed beyond expectations). The Mets' bullpen, vaunted as the best in baseball at the beginning of last season, is not strong, while the Phillies, with an occasional lapse from Tom Gordon, has been among the best in baseball. Should Mets' fans despair about this?

Yes and no.

Sure, they should, in that the Mets' pitching staff has underperformed. But, no, they shouldn't, because the Phillies' staff has overperformed. If Oliver Perez and Mike Pelphrey get straightened out and the bullpen stiffens, the Mets could surge, and the surge could be magnified if the gravity pulls Jamie Moyer, Kyle Kendrick and Adam Eaton down to earth and the Phillies' bullpen gets figured out or tired. All of the above can happen, which is why the Mets' fans (and Mets) shouldn't despair.

On the hitting front, the Mets can get a lot better, and, again, surge. While Ryan Howard has gotten off to a bad start and Jimmy Rollins has underperformed compared to a year ago (in fairness, he missed a good chunk of the beginning of the season), Pat Burrell is having a career year in a contract year, Chris Coste and Greg Dobbs are doing their best Roy Hobbs' imitation, and Chase Utley (who has cooled off recently) is putting up MVP-like numbers. Again, the Phillies could dip, and the Mets could surge, but here I think the Phillies won't dip that much (and Rollins and Howard are starting to get hot). Why? Because the Phillies are a lumber company, plain and simple. They can flat out hit. Prolonged slumps are unlikely, but the Mets still can hit a lot better.

In summary, there is a lot of baseball left to be played. The Mets could take a lesson from Willie Randolph's firing and say to themselves, "Hey, I had a lot to do with that and I need to do better" -- to a person. Much of the core won't be moved. Wright and Santana are cornerstones, and no one will take Beltran's contract. Reyes could get moved in the right blockbuster deal, because there are those in the media who think that his lack of maturity is hurting the team. At any rate, however, when you see the names, their potential and their past achievements, you should realize that the Mets have a ton of ability which, if harnessed, could help lead them to a good run over the last two thirds of the season.

So before they start ordering the champagne in Philadelphia and talking about whether the Red Sox would offer a good matchup in the World Series, the Phillies need to remind themselves -- daily -- that their division rivals and the rest of the NL will get up for them and give them everything they have. If the Phillies are championship worth, they'll rise to the occasion.

But to do so, they'll need continued good pitching (and good health) from the likes of guys named Moyer, Eaton, Kendrick, Condrey, Madson, Romero and Gordon.


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