It hurt like hell to watch the Mets drop two out of three to the Braves this weekend. The lead in the NL East is down to one game and the comparisons between 2007 and 2008 have been flying for about two weeks now.
Here's the difference: the tough losses the Mets have had this September haven't been particularly out of the ordinary. In 2007, the Mets were losing games that they simply had no business losing. Everything fell apart against inferior teams - the starters pitched poorly, the bullpen blew leads and the lineup didn't hit.
This year's team has a glaring and obvious weakness - its bullpen. Yes, the lineup did a very bad job of tacking on runs this weekend, but the relief corps bears the brunt of responsibility for the most recent losses. That is exactly what you would've expected to happen to a team running out a series of mediocre or worse hurlers to nail down important games in a pennant race.
Bad set-up men give up leads in the eighth inning. I was actually happy that Jerry Manuel let Johan Santana start the eighth on Saturday afternoon, because it showed me that he knew his "tired" starter was more effective than his bullpen. Scott Schoeneweis is a bad reliever, so it's no surprise he couldn't get the batter he was supposed to. Brian Stokes has given the Mets 25 good innings, but his track record suggests that he is a bad reliever. It's also no surprise when he fails to get the job done and gives up the lead.
Bad closers blow leads in the ninth inning, the way Luis Ayala did in Sunday's loss. There's a reason why the Mets were able to pick up Ayala at the low, low cost of Anderson Hernandez last month. Ayala simply hasn't been that good since ruining his elbow in 2006. He's given the Mets 10 good innings this year and has filled in servicably for Billy Wagner, but we're not exactly talking about Eric Gagne in the prime of his career here.
The Mets are a very good team with a very bad bullpen. Those teams are going to struggle to win consistently when the bullpen is always on the verge of giving away a lead. That's why this feels nothing like 2007 to me, because it's unfair to expect this team to keep winning at the rate they have been with such bad relievers.
One final note: I originally went on a vitriolic rant about how the Mets are screwing ticket holders like myself for Friday night's rainout by only offering an exchange to any game the rest of the 2008 season. Perhaps you already know this, but this is the final season the Mets will play home games at Shea Stadium, so ticket sales for the final homestand have been selling ... somewhat briskly.
I could not understand why the Mets would not offer fans the option of sitting in the cheapest seats for a game of their choice (subject to availability, of course) at Citi Field next season. I noted that the Mets could even limit exchanges to "bronze" or "value" games and it would still have been looked upon as a good-faith gesture that many fans (such as myself) would appreciate the opportunity to have.
And now I'm confused. Originally, the word was that the tickets could be exchanged for one of the final six games of this season. But following the links from the team website, I'm getting the message that you can exchange them for Citi Field games next season. Anyone know the definitive answer to this question?