On a weekend where the New York Mets should have swept the Atlanta Braves out of town, they wind up losing two of three. A two-run lead could not be protected in the ninth, just as the same margin could not be entrusted to the bullpen on Saturday in the eighth inning after 7-plus strong innings from Johan Santana. It hurts wasting a performance from your ace like that, but it hurts even more to waste one from the enigma that is Ollie Perez. You never know what he's going to give you. Sometimes he can be near brilliant, and others he pitches you out of a game by the second inning. Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, the Phillies were completing a four-game sweep of the Milwaukee Brewers to creep right back into the middle of things. To use "breathing down the Mets' backs" is underrated; they were doing that last year after the four-game sweep of New York then, cutting the lead to 3 1/2. Now, we're back at one.
One positive that can be taken out of this weekend is that David Wright has finally seemed to break out of a slump he's been mired in for a few weeks now. He hit three home runs over the weekend, and has looked a lot better at the plate. With the ghosts of last year possibly starting to creep back and the painful memory still etched deep in the minds of anyone and everyone affiliated with the colors orange and blue, the Mets need Wright more than anything these last two weeks. With a productive Carlos Beltran and second-half (and possibly season) NL MVP Carlos Delgado hitting behind him, along with the 2008 version of Jose Reyes (lest not forget his September swoon last year), the top part of the Mets lineup could be very difficult to deal with.
With John Maine's absence, yes, the Mets are going to have to spot start, like they were forced to last season. But before anybody reaches for the panic button, it's important to realize that the situation this year is far better. First and foremost, Johan Santana has been one of the best pitchers in baseball over the past month or so. Mike Pelfrey has made enormous strides in 2008, and always seems to give his team a chance to win. Pedro Martinez came back sluggish and is still a shadow of his former self, but has the ability to string a few nice outings together. Oliver Perez remains a mystery, but the good outings far outweigh the bad ones this year, and he's a big-game pitcher. Jon Niese is a fresh arm and can be called a "prospect", and a darn decent one at that, evidenced by his blanking of Atlanta over eight innings Saturday night. That puts to shame last year's starters - the ancient Tom Glavine (Game 162), Pelfrey before his transformation, and guys such as Phil Humber (traded to Minnesota for Santana), who got rocked in a crucial game in the last week of last year, and Brian Lawrence (does anybody know where he even is now?). In fairness, Humber was not ready and Lawrence has no business ever starting a baseball game, but it is what it is. They started games for the 2007 New York Mets.
Philadelphia has all the confidence in the world, and they should. They've come back from bigger, almost insurmountable deficits before, and have no reason to believe that they can't this time. They're lineup packs a lethal punch and they're bullpen is darn tough. They've got a true ace in Cole Hamels, Brett Myers has pitched better than almost anyone lately, and Jamie Moyer looks nothing like his 44 years. But the New York Mets have reasons to be confident, too. Their pen doesn't match the Phils, but their offense does, and they're starting pitching is better. The Mets play better defense, and they have more guys who can come off the bench and produce. This team is just more fun to watch that last year's, and they're having more fun under interim manager Jerry Manuel. There is no eight-game losing streak to Philadelphia this year - the Mets went 11-7 against the Phils this season. And oh yea, they're in first place. Baseball is a funny game and anything can happen. Yesterday the Phillies picked up some ground while Americans had their eyes glued to football. Today, everyone probably thinks that the NL East is theirs for the taking. But this is a different year. The Mets made one of their biggest trades ever for Johan Santana, and he gets three chances to show why he's worth all those millions. You know he's not going to waste the opportunity. Neither will the rest of the team, who have fourteen chances to put last year behind them. Good luck, Philadelphia, in your quest to defend the division title. Just don't be surprised when the end result isn't the one you expected.