Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Cubbies Crush Us

Well, that was no fun.

The Mets left Chicago battered and bruised, the victims of two late-inning meltdowns by two relievers with entirely too many appearances so far this season. The Cubs are very hot right now, but one has to be objective and simply say that the better team won those two games at Wrigley.

In fact, we’re almost a month into the 2008 season and one thing is clear – the New York Mets are not the class of the National League. The Cubs are a better team, and so are the Arizona Diamondbacks, and there are a few other teams that I could make a case for if I was so inclined – Milwaukee and Los Angeles being chief among them.

The strength of the 2008 team lies in its starting pitching. The front three in the Mets’ rotation is terrific, but the back end is either brittle (Pedro and El Duque) or not very good (Mike Pelfrey and Nelson Figueroa). I think that both Arizona and Chicago have better rotations one through five, and the Brewers and Dodgers can make a case that they have better starters as well. Not a good sign, when you’re forced to look at the Met bullpen and their position players.

The bullpen is bloated with specialists – Scott Schoenweis, Joe Smith and Jorge Sosa have no business facing anyone who bats with the opposite hand. Billy Wagner is still a Top-10 closer, but Aaron Heilman is struggling mightily, Pedro Feliciano doesn’t look much better and Duaner Sanchez is still getting comfortable after his devastating shoulder injury. Matt Wise’s return will help, as it will either lead to the demotion of Smith or the release of Sosa, but if the front four in the pen aren’t dominant, the Mets won’t crack the 90-win mark.

The everyday lineup is good, but it relies so much on the perpetually injured Moises Alou to make it dangerous. Jose Reyes, David Wright and Carlos Beltran are stars – in fact, they are among the best at their position in the league. Ryan Church and Luis Castillo are solid role players and round out a lineup nicely. But Brian Schneider can’t hit a lick (regardless of the superficially hot start he got off to before his injury) and it may be time to seriously consider the possibility that Carlos Delgado is shot.

Alou’s return will send Angel Pagan into the #4 outfielder’s slot, which will improve the bench by forcing the release of Brady Clark. The rest of the reserve corps, however, is embarrassingly bad. Raul Casanova can’t hit. Damion Easley isn’t much better and has no business backing up all four infield positions. Marlon Anderson is the reincarnation of Manny Mota, but the modern game doesn’t allow for a roster spot to be wasted on a pinch-hitting specialist. Only Endy Chavez has multiple tools (defense and base-running), but can’t hit for average or power.

The Mets are still arguably the best team in the National League East and might still be able to fend off the Braves and the Phillies to win the division. Atlanta’s had a lot of pitching injuries already, not to mention an already suspect bullpen. Although the Braves’ everyday lineup is better than New York’s, it won’t look so formidable when the incomparable Chipper Jones comes back to earth. The Phillies can’t match up to either team in the pitching department and their big bats will not be enough to overcome their mound mediocrity.

The Cubs should hold off the Brewers to win the NL Central and the Diamondbacks are likely to cruise to the NL West flag. The Dodgers and the Brew Crew have the inside track on the wild card, although the Braves and the Phillies could make a run. Anything can happen in a short series – and it usually does – but Mets GM Omar Minaya has some work to do if he’s going to put a team on the field in October capable of reaching the World Series.


MP said...

Do you think they would release Sosa after they signed him to that ridiculous contract? My money would be on Smith going down - though I think they should focus on dealing Scotty Show or Feliciano. One LOOGY is enough.

Assuming Pedro can give us half a season (and I know that's quite a big assumption) I think the Mets 1-4 in a post season series is better than the Cubbies.

Zambrano-Santana slightly favors the Mets, depending on what Zambrano shows up. Pedro-Lilly is a push, perhaps favoring the Cubs if Lilly is on a tear. Maine/Perez-Hill/Marquis/Dempster has me leaning towards the Mets as well. Hill does have the potential to string dominant starts together though.

Delgado = done.

tim said...

Uh, I know you love John Maine JR but both Pelfrey and Figueroa have more wins, so why bash them? Both have been more than adequate in two of their three starts, so take it easy.

Unless you think Ronny Cedeno is going to challenge for the triple crown, you are nuts to think they are a better team. Their defense is shot and their lineup, while it has more power, isn't any better. And consider the fact that the Mets had a 14 inning game on Thursday, went on the road to Philly, played the late ESPN game on Sunday and then went into Chi-town for this series, where they faced the Cubs' #1 and 2 starters. Rich Hill is struggling, Jason Marquis and Ryan Dempster are jokes. The team is clearly exhausted and while excuses are for jackasses, I think you can lay off a little here. The Mets had a fantastic April last year and what did it get them? Sure, there are some bullpen issues and Delgado issues, but Alou will fortify the power numbers and protect Beltran, and a permanent move to the 2 spot for Church would be best for the linup regardless of the bottom of the order. As for the bullpen; you're seeing what you get when you don't hold on to Register.

Judge Roughneck said...

I think they'd release Sosa, just not on May 1. Maybe on July 1, but that will be fat after Wise returns. Yes, Smith seems to be a lock to get sent down, leaving Sosa as the only ROOGY in baseball who is regularly deployed against left-handed batters.

A healthy Pedro changes the dynamic of everything, but I can't be sure that guy is ever coming back. Pedro of 2005 vintage gives the Mets the best pitching in baseball. A mediocre Pedro or worse tips the balance to the other teams.

And Tim, I know you think Maine will never be a star, but we both know wins in April is no way to evaluate a pitcher. And you're wrong about the Cubs lineup:

Soto > Schneider
Lee > Delgado
DeRosa = Castillo
Theriot < Reyes
Aramis < Wright
Soriano = Alou
Johnson < Beltran
Fukudome > Church (I can already hear the howl of protest!)

The Cubs are hot right now, but they're also a good all-around baseball team. Soto and Lee are mismatches at their position; the Mets' only position mismatch is in CF.

Steven Register will never pitch in a major league baseball game.

MP said...

Reyes is a mismatch with The Riot - He (Theriot) is off to a hot start, but he'll come back to his usual non-walking low OBP self soon.

Fukudome is just fun to say. But I agree he's better than Church.