Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ghosts Of 2007 Or Just A Late-Season Slump?

  • Nationals 1-Mets 0:
Without last season's collapse, the perception of this September's version of the Mets
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would be that they're in a slump; that their bullpen coughed up a couple of games they should've won; that they ran into two pitchers in Washington that shut them down; that they're still in a great position to make the playoffs via the division or Wild Card with twelve games left. But that's revisionist history. Until they exorcise that ghost by making the playoffs (and I don't think it matters all that much if they go in and, as the Phillies did last year and is so conveniently forgotten, flame out and get swept away in the first round before they even have time to blink), no one's going to forget what happened in September of 2007; and more importantly, no one's going to let the Mets players, old and new, forget what happened either. Nor should they.
The two seasons are so vastly different that there's no way to compare the team and the way things played out, but it's the result that's going to create this vision of the Mets as a team that collapses every September. It's easy to ignore that it was a hot streak of 21 wins in 30 games that got them ahead of the Phillies to begin with. It's easy to ignore that the Phillies ran roughshod over a team in the Brewers that is collapsing in an even worse fashion than the Mets have for a second straight year; it's so bad in Milwaukee that they fired their manager with twelve games remaining to save their season.
As easy as it is to compare the two seasons, the Mets can only tip their hats to the Nationals, who've played and pitched very well over the past two games and beaten them. The only thing they can do is go on the field and worry about themselves. If they take care of their own games, they won't have to watch the scoreboard and wonder what the Phillies and Brewers are doing and whether or not they're going to get help from other teams.
Much like the questions about former manager Willie Randolph's job status (don't be surprised if he ends up in Milwaukee after the season as their new manager, by the way), the Mets players are distracted by ancillary things over which they have no control. As I said yesterday, a big chunk of the 2008 nucleus weren't members of the team in 2007, but with all the repeated inquiries about the collapse, it must feel as if they were. It would be refreshing for Johan Santana or Brian Schneider to say, "Look, I wasn't here then; how do I know what
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went on?" They're feeling the pressure; gripping the bats too tightly; trying to throw too hard and each player is trying to win games all by himself. That's not the way to win in any month, not just September.
If the Mets make it to the playoffs, they'll be so relaxed and playing with so little pressure that they're a good bet to make it all the way to the World Series; they just have to stop worrying about 2007 because in the end, as much as it's mentioned as a ghost, it has nothing to do with what's happening now.
  • Cubs 5-Brewers 4:
Much like the curveball from Adam Wainwright that struck out Carlos Beltran to end the 2006 NLCS, there's no way to give Prince Fielder a hard time for striking out against Kerry Wood last night to end the game. After battling his way to a 3-2 count and fouling off one 96 mph fastball after
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another, Babe Ruth himself couldn't have hit that curve that Wood broke off to end the game. (The pitcher-batter battle reminded me of the Reggie Jackson-Bob Welch, 1978 World Series duel of power vs power.)
With all the nonsensical talk of "must wins" for the Mets, this was a "must win" for the Brewers. They had their ace in C.C. Sabathia on the mound and Sabathia had been all but unhittable since joining the team; this was their first game for new manager Dale Sveum; and to get things off on the right foot and appear as if they weren't still in the fog that led to the devastating sweep at the hands of the Phillies, they had to win this game; but they didn't. Now, the Brewers are in even deeper trouble than the Mets. There's nothing much else they can do to try and win this season. They made bold maneuvers to improve the club; they fired the manager when things were crumbling; and they still lost another game.
It would be stunning if they were able to regain control from this tailspin, but they've got their second ace pitching tonight in Ben Sheets; they're facing a very hittable pitcher in Jason
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Marquis whom they pounded earlier in the season. If they're going to turn things around, tonight's the night----but they won't. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see Sheets pull himself out of the game somewhere between the third and fifth innings with one of his maladies. It's become a nightmare for the Brewers and no amount of top-tier starting pitchers or desperation managerial changes are going to prevent their car crashing into the canyon as if it were being driven by Toonces the driving cat.
  • Reds 7-Cardinals 2:
Tony La Russa must be ready to boil over because of his front office's failure to act and do something to try and help the team win. With the Brewers and Mets stumbling and the Wild
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Card there for the taking, what would have happened had it been the Cardinals who made the bold move for Sabathia; or had they made some kind of a deal to shore up their bullpen? It's gotten to the point that La Russa is in a similar situation as his friend Lou Piniella was with the Devil Rays and asking for some help to try and keep the team in contention.
The Devil Rays management at the time tried to placate Piniella by acquiring...Randall Simon. Piniella left the team in a huff and is now closing in on his second straight playoff appearance with the Cubs. The Cardinals didn't even put forth the pretense of making such a negligible deal like for the aforementioned Simon; they literally did nothing. I wouldn't take it as any great shock if La Russa asks out of his contract to go elsewhere. I'm not sure if his contract would allow him to manage another team if he leaves with a year remaining, but that could be the genesis of this idea that La Russa would be willing to be a
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GM; La Russa doesn't want to be a GM, but his contract might stipulate that he can leave for what would be seen as a promotion and a GM job would be seen as such; then he could simply name himself as manager while having someone else run the front office as his underling. Seattle might be a good spot for such a maneuver.
He has a right to be irritated as well. At his age and with his resume, does La Russa need to be banging his head into walls to try and get his front office to bring in one player to make another run at a title; hear mollifying statements that are designed to keep him quiet and are never followed through upon; and see his hard work go down the drain when things could have been vastly different? With everything he's done for the Cardinals organization, I think he's earned more than that and would be better off if he followed Piniella's lead and left for a better situation; one in which he's not going to hear one thing only to see his team do another.

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