With a loss on Friday, the Mets moved closer to falling out of the playoff race. Considering the Mets had a 3.5 game lead at one point in September, the inevitable comparisons to 2007's collapse will be made. But this year is different. Last year was a total, complete collapse. This year the Mets have dropped out of the playoffs for another, more fundamental reason - they just aren't very good.
Quick - what is the Mets strength?
Pitching? No way. Their bullpen' struggles have been well documented, and the Met starters not named Johan have a 6.16 ERA in September.
Hitting? On Thursday, the Mets started Ramon Martinez and Robinson Cancel. And perhaps even worse, when the game was on the line late in the game, Jerry Manuel stuck with them because he said "I didn't have any better option." The fact that they came through in this instance is less important than the fact that a 32 year old with 20 major league hits, and a guy who hit .194 last year are the Mets best options in September.
Defense? Its amazing Carlos Beltran can still even lift a bat, with all the heavy lifting he has done in the outfield this year. He has spent much of the year flanked by not one but two infielders playing out of position. Carlos Delgado's incredibly disappearing range really has to make the Mets think twice about picking up his option, regardless of his torrid second half.
This is a very flawed ballclub. They are extremely top heavy, with four of the top players in the game in Jose Reyes, Beltran, David Wright and Johan Santana. After that the club would be one of the worst in baseball.
And that has cost the team dearly in September.
Billy Wagner got hurt. John Maine went down. Fernando Tatis hit the DL. Reyes and Wright have struggled to try and carry the team (can you blame them? .) The Mets did not have the depth to withstand this adversity. In September, teams play a different game. Players like Wright and Beltran see less good pitches to hit. Teams just don't let the big guns beat them. Look at Wednesday for a perfect example of this. Daniel Murphy leads off the bottom of the 9th in a tie game with a triple. Wright goes out of the zone to strike out (again, trying to do too much), and then Lou Piniella wants no part of Beltran and Delgado. Could any Met fan realistically have confidence in Ryan Church and Ramon Castro to get that run in? This one didn't.
The Mets have not collapsed. Their record in September is actually a respectable 12-11. But their weaknesses have been spotlighted by injuries and the tight play of the pennant race. If the Mets want to end the 'curse' of September problems in 2009, they will need to rework the fundamentally flawed ballclub and add some depth to the team that can support their superstars.
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