Andrew Perna. 18th September, 2008 - 11:23 am
Barring an unforeseen slump on the North Side of Chicago or an uncanny surge by the Astros or Marlins over the last eleven days of the regular season, the Mets, Phillies, and Brewers will be fighting for two postseason berths in the National League.
Heading into Thursday's action Philadelphia held a half-game lead over New York for the lead in the NL East while the Mets had their own half-game edge over the Brewers for the Wild Card. These three teams, separated by mere half-games, will undoubtedly shuffle positions over the next two-hundred or so hours.
Even though the Brewers traded for CC Sabathia in hopes of riding him into the playoffs and the Phillies were last season's NL East champions, the Mets are the team with the most on the line heading into October.
After their epic collapse of 2007, when Philadelphia famously rallied from seven games back with seventeen games to play to edge New York for the division title, the Mets can't stand back and watch another postseason berth evaporate.
However, they appear to be in worse shape this September than they were a year ago when then-manager Willie Randolph appeared both shell-shocked and calm during their the well-documented choke job of '07.
That's not because of interim Manager Jerry Manuel but rather the lasting memory of twelve months ago and injuries to key members of their roster.
Billy Wagner may not be as automatic as he was earlier in his career, but it's clear that the Mets don't have a serviceable option to close games in the wake of his season, and possibly even career-ending elbow injury.
New York is also without pitchers Orlando Hernandez, an old but tested fall performer, and John Maine, a young but above-average pitcher, who has a record of 31-24 with a 3.93 ERA in 72 starts over the last three seasons.
Manuel has also lost Moises Alou, Trot Nixon, and most recently Fernando Tatis, to injury in 2008. All three were valuable outfield bats - especially Tatis, who had been a breath of fresh air in New York this summer.
However, it should be noted that Johan Santana was pitching in Minnesota last September.
Santana has been nothing short of dominant in New York, with a 2.70 ERA and a .235 batting average against, but his record (13-7) would be much better had the team's bullpen not blown multiple wins for the lefty.
He has pitched two complete games this season, meaning that he?s just 11-7 when handing the ball over to the bullpen this season. That?s an amazing stat for a pitcher that has allowed more than three earned runs on only four occasions, and has never been credited with more than five runs in a start.
Santana will pitch at least twice, and perhaps, three more times for the Mets this season, giving them a great chance to win at least two or three games down the stretch. However, it?ll take much more than that to continue playing through the end of the month.
The Mets do not have an off-day left on their regular season schedule, with eleven games remaining.
New York?s Schedule
Thu, Sept. 18 ? @ Washington
Fri, Sept. 19 ? @ Atlanta
Sat, Sept. 20 ? @ Atlanta
Sun, Sept. 21 ? @ Atlanta
Mon, Sept. 22 ? vs. Chicago
Tue, Sept. 22 ? vs. Chicago
Wed, Sept. 23 ? vs. Chicago
Thu, Sept. 24 ? vs. Chicago
Fri, Sept. 25 ? vs. Florida
Sat, Sept. 26 ? vs. Florida
Sun, Sept. 27 ? vs. Florida
The Mets are lucky to have their last seven games at home, but division foes like the Braves and Marlins haven?t been easy victories for New York in the latter part of the season. They are a combined 9-6 against Atlanta and Florida since the All-Star break, not a bad record, but one that should be better, especially considering the Braves? abyssal 67-85 mark.
The Brewers will have to face the Cubs, as well, but the Mets have the toughest schedule of the three teams in the race to make the playoffs. On paper it may not appear that way, but their inability to win important games against inferior teams has to be held against them ? they have lost six of their last eleven games.
Even if the Mets aren?t able to top the Phillies for the NL East crown, they still have a strong chance to extend their season thanks to the equally-stirring collapse of the Brewers this month. However, that will take timely hitting, strong outings from the bullpen and some luck over the next ten days.
With that said, it?s hard to believe a lineup that includes David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado and Jose Reyes, and has a starter like Santana, could allow the Mets to watch the postseason from the sidelines yet again.
Andrew Perna is a Senior Writer for RealGM. Please feel free to contact him via e-mail with comments or questions on this piece: Andrew.Perna@RealGM.com.