Thursday, August 17, 2006

Mets in a No-Win Situation

by Scott Silversten

The next important game for the New York Mets does not come for 66 days.
Specifically, on October 21, Game 1 of the World Series in a
yet-to-be-determined American League city.

Of course, that begs the question: What if the Mets do not reach the Fall
Classic? And that, Baseball For Thought readers, is the problem.

The Mets will be in a no-win situation when they begin the postseason. Lose
in either the Division Series or National League Championship Series, and
most will consider their fabulous campaign a waste. Win the NL pennant, and
their grand accomplishment will seem tainted by the abject mediocrity of the
competition.

Fair or not, those are the facts of what the Mets face in October. Nothing
short of a good showing in the World Series will be good enough. Even
reaching the last week of October will not be good enough if they are easily
brushed away by the AL champion.

And to this I say HOGWASH!

Reaching the World Series is an accomplishment in itself, especially in the
era of the three-tiered playoff system. The Mets will be favored to win any
NL playoff series they partake in ­ odds that would not be helped by another
injury to Pedro Martinez ­ but honestly, how much of a favorite should one
team be over another in a short five- or seven-game series?

For those who did not notice, the Kansas City Royals recently swept a
three-game set from the Boston Red Sox, while the Pittsburgh Pirates did the
same to the St. Louis Cardinals. The Royals and Pirates are currently the
worst teams in their respective leagues.

In recent days, I've heard comparisons between the National League and the
NBA's Eastern Conference of the past few years. The Eastern Conference has
been incredibly weak, with sub-.500 teams qualifying for the playoffs before
being quickly eliminated by the teams at the top of the conference.

However, there is one distinctive difference. The bottom teams that make
the playoffs in the NBA have very little chance to win even one series, let
alone the championship. That is not the case in baseball, where a wild card
entrant has reached the World Series in five of the last six seasons.

When fans watch the Philadelphia 76ers battle the Milwaukee Bucks for the
No. 8 spot in the NBA's Eastern Conference, they do so with the knowledge
that neither team is long for the postseason and whichever qualifies will
likely be eliminated within four of five games.

With baseball, that's just not the case. Is there anyone who doubts that
whichever team captures the NL wild card slot would stand a strong chance of
upsetting the Mets in a Division Series match-up. Cincinnati? San Diego?
Colorado? None of those teams would quake at facing an aging Pedro Martinez
and Tom Glavine and the rest of the mediocre New York rotation.

In this regard, the baseball playoffs are more comparable to the NCAA
Tournament. All a team needs to do is qualify, and then all bets are off.
Upsets are common, the best team during the regular season rarely wins the
ultimate title and there is intrigue and drama along the road to the title.

For that simple reason, September is going to provide an unbelievable
playoff chase in the NL (people need to stop calling it a pennant chase,
because a team doesn¹t earn the pennant until they win two postseason
rounds).

Realistically, any team that enters September within six games of the wild
card lead has a shot at October baseball. All it takes is two strong weeks,
much like the Los Angeles Dodgers have stormed to the front in the NL West
over the last 19 days.

Two good weeks! Usually it's tough to jump over so many teams in such a
short amount of time, but if everyone else is grinding their gears at .500,
it¹s actually easier than one might think.

September in the NL should be thrilling, starting with Labor Day weekend
encounters between the Dodgers and Colorado Rockies, and the Cincinnati Reds
and San Diego Padres.

Important games for just about every team in the NL except the Mets, who can
only hope they get to play those big games in late October.

Scott Silversten's column, "Age of Reason", appears every Thursday

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"I've had a pretty good success facing Stan (Musial) by throwing him my best pitch and backing up third base."
- Carl Erskine