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.