Tuesday, April 08, 2008
And so the Mets (2-3) and Phillies (3-4) finally get to square off, in a series that has seen a lot of hype and anticipation developing around it over the last six months. Jayson Stark wrote in the pre-season about the emerging Phillies – Mets rivalry, challenging fans “to find two teams in the N.L. that are more closely matched – and more obsessed with each other – than these two.” The genesis for the immediate bad blood in this rivalry stretches back to the 2006-2007 off-season when Jimmy Rollins boldly predicted that the Phillies were the team to beat in the N.L. East (“I think we are the team to beat – finally.”), a claim roundly rejected by the Mets, the defending N.L. East champs, and most of the New York-focused media. The rivalry largely simmered during the regular season as the Mets got off to a lead and held it over the Phillies and Braves.
Let’s rewind to September 12, 2007. The Phillies had just gotten battered by the Colorado Rockies 12-0 at Citizens Bank Ballpark. Kyle Kendrick had gotten hammered badly. Meanwhile, the Mets had squeezed out a 4-3 win over the Atlanta Braves in
That’s when everything changed. The next night the Phillies beat the
The Mets continued to struggle, losing two in a row to the Nationals before taking four of their next five games. The Mets 7-6 win over the Florida Marlins on Sunday, September 23rd, seemed to righten the Mets ship. They still held a two and a half game lead over the Phillies. The Phillies had also been playing terrific baseball during this time, winning five of six against the Cardinals and Nationals only to drop two in a row. The last week was dramatic and exceptional, some of the best baseball played in a long, long time.
After dropping a 10-6 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Tuesday (the Mets had gotten clobbered 13-4 by the Nationals the previous day when the Phillies were idle, cutting the Mets lead to a mere two games), the Phillies beat the Braves 5-2 and 6-4. Meanwhile the Mets were spiraling out of control: they lost to the Nationals 10-9 on Tuesday, then 9-6 the next day. The Mets 3-0 loss to the Cardinals on Thursday meant that the Mets and Phillies had identical records at 87-72. Friday night the Phillies beat the Nationals 6-0 before 45,084 roaring fans at Citizens Bank Ballpark while the Marlins defeated the Mets 7-4 in front of 55,298 stunned New Yorkers in
That never happened: Tom Glavine took the mound on Sunday and promptly surrendered seven runs in the first inning on the way to a 8-1 loss to the Marlins, their twelfth loss in seventeen games. The Phillies, meanwhile, jumped out to a 3-0 lead over the Nationals on their way to a 6-1 win. It was the Phillies thirteenth win in seventeen games.
The off-season simmered once more until the Mets jumped into the Johan Santana derby and beat out the Red Sox and Yankees. Buoyed with their acquisition of Santana, the Mets suddenly felt emboldened to talk trash, leading Carlos Beltran to declare: “This year, tell Jimmy Rollins WE’RE the team to beat.”
Tonight the rivalry is renewed.
The interesting thing about this series is how the Mets and Phillies aren't putting the strongest pieces they have on the board forward. Johan Santana and Pedro Martinez won't take the mound for the Mets, Santana having pitched (and lost) Sunday, while Pedro is on the D.L. Cole Hamels and Brett Myers hurled the Phillies last two games, so both teams are going with the back ends of their rotations. As I noted above, the Phillies and Mets enter this series with losing records.
Not exactly the makings of Yankees - Red Sox, Part II.
The Mets and Phillies are sending nearly the same teams to the field tonight that met last season. The Phillies have upgraded themselves at third base, adding Pedro Feliz to replace the light-to-no hitting Wes Helms and Abraham Nunez, and ably replaced Aaron Rowand with the Jayson Werth / Geoff Jenkins platoon. There is no reason to believe that the Phillies can't equal the 892 runs they scored in 2007 this season, or even exceed it.
The Mets, meanwhile, bring David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado back along with Jose Reyes. Aside from Moises Alou, on the D.L. and replaced in the Mets lineup with ex-Phillie Endy Chavez, the Mets send substantially the same unit to the field that played last season - although the Mets did upgrade at catcher by acquiring Brian Schneider over Paul Lo Duca in what was basically a swap of catchers with the Nationals. The key to the Mets offense is the play of Jose Reyes, who might have won the 2007 N.L. MVP award had the Mets held on and won the N.L. East. In 2007 Reyes stole 78 bases, hit 12 triples and 12 home runs, scored 119 runs and had an .359 OBP. Reyes struggles down the stretch helped sink the Mets and probably elevated the candidacy of Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, who shined while opposite number Reyes sank.
This season Reyes is off to a shaky start, hitting just .238 (.261 OBP) in five games (5-for-21) with a .283 slugging percentage (compared with a robust .421 last season). Reyes also is 0-for-1 in stolen bases. If Reyes isn't threatening the opposition the Mets offense loses its biggest gun and suddenly looks a whole lot more ordinary.
The Santana Issue. I might as well stop for a moment and talk about Johan Santana. I've gotten assailed by Mets fans more times than I can count on this score, but ... The acquisition of Santana improves the Mets, perhaps makes them 2-4 games better, but it isn't the smashing blow to the hopes of the rest of the N.L. that the Mets fans seem to think it is. Santana is a great pitcher, but great pitchers can lose 2-1 pitchers duels, and he only takes the mound once every four-to-five games. Baseball teams win, not individuals. This is what makes baseball a better sport than, say, the NBA. One man can propel an NBA team to a 25-30 game improvement, whereas baseball teams cannot rely on the impact of one player. I'll play the A-Rod card: A-Rod leaves Seattle before the '01 season and they improve by 26 games over their previous season's performance.
Comparisons: Based on last year's performances, here are now the Phillies and Mets stack up. Offensively, the Phillies have the clear edge here. They led the N.L. with 892 runs in 2007, whereas the Mets were fourth with 804 runs. The Mets did steal 200 bases last season - best in the N.L. - to the Phillies 138, but the Phillies were caught 19 times to the Mets 46. On-Base-Percentage? The Phillies led the N.L. with a .354 OBP to the Mets .342. The Phillies also led the Mets in home runs (213 to 177), doubles (326 to 294) and triples (41 to 27). The Phillies were also second in the N.L. in home runs and first in triples. Mets did hit better with runners in scoring position: .276 vs. .259 BA/RISP.
In terms of Pitching, the Mets have the clear edge. The Mets 4.26 team ERA was better than the Phillies 4.73 and they tossed twice as many shutouts as the Phillies: ten to five. The Mets also allowed fewer home runs (206 to 165) and got more strikeouts (1,134 to 1,050).
Fielding, the Mets have the edge once more, posting a superior Defense Efficiency Ratio (DER): .702 vs. .687, although the Mets had a higher Unearned Run Average (UERA): 0.39 vs. 0.33.
What is going to be the key to this series? I have a few.
Can the back end of the Mets rotation beat the Phillies? In particular, the Mets want to see a good game from #3 starter (now likely #2 starter) John Maine on Thursday night against Adam Eaton.
Will the Phillies usual Mets-killers make their appearance? Pat Burrell, who has three home runs and nine RBI in the Phillies first seven games, has a lifetime .921 OPS against the Mets with 41 home runs and 102 RBI in 134 games. If Burrell has a big series, then the Phillies will take at least two of the three games.
Putup or Shutup. Jimmy Rollins vs. Carlos Beltran. Last year J.Roll talked big but backed it up with an MVP performance. Can Beltran do the same after calling Rollins out in spring training? Last year J.Roll had a 1.057 OPS against the Mets with six home runs, 15 runs scored and 15 RBI, four doubles, two triples and eight steals in nine tries in 18 games with the Mets. If the Mets are going to beat the Phillies, Carlos Beltran needs to step up and be a leader and do something like that.
Ghosts of '07. Jose Reyes needs to shake his struggles down the stretch last season out of his head and play some baseball. More than any other player, the Mets need big things from him to beat the Phillies.
Today at 1PM, Jamie Moyer vs. Perez. Mets vs. Phillies. Battle of Armageddon, Take One.
Shortstop Jimmy Rollins sustained an ankle injury in the game which has not yet been widely picked up yet in blogosphere. The same can be said of the MLB single-game record of three hit-by-pitches tied by 2nd baseman Chase Utley who was hit three times in the game. The Phillies won the game though, by a 5-2 score.
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It's so nice to win.....