Wednesday, October 04, 2006

PLAYOFF PREVIEW, AKA THE ROLLING INJURY REPORT

I was a lot more excited about writing this yesterday. That'd be the day before El Duque made me wanna Puque. To recap: 56% of all pitchers signed by the Mets in their 45 year history are currently on the DL. Steve Trachsel plans to fly back east outside the plane, John Maine is swimming to Shea through Flushing Bay with an anvil tied around his neck as we speak, Oliver Perez will unveil his much-rumored but never seen "Juggle Five Machetes While Riding A Unicycle On A Hockey Rink" Routine, and even Tom Glavine has decided the time is right to explore the world of S&M with the high-priced Dominatrix, Mistress Laverna, known the world over for her "Left Arm Lockdown" routine.

But have no fear, Met fans. Lima Time! says he's been resting up, and is ready to pitch at a moment's notice.

And no, I'm not bitter or anything.

So, I'll approach this preview with the assumption that Maine, Glavine and Trachsel will start. As to the game 4 starter, it'll either be Oliver Perez, Darren Oliver (I'll combine those two into one Darren Perez for ease of use) or a hobbled El Duque. At least the hitters are healthy.

Anyway, let's start with the starters, since I wanna end this thing on a positive note.

Starting Pitching: The Dodgers will likely go with Lowe (3.63/1.27), Kuo (4.22/1.46) & Maddux (3.30/1.09 with LA & 4.20/1.22 for the season) in games 1, 2 & 3, with either Penny (4.33/1.38) or Lowe on short rest in game 4 if needed, and Lowe or Kuo on short rest in game 5 if that nailbiting scenario plays itself out.

Let's be honest here, folks: the '54 Indians or '97 Braves staff that ain't (and even if it were, look how those seasons turned out). Much has been made of the Dodgers' starters ERA being better than the Mets'. But that includes the numbers for guys like Lima Time! or Oliver Perez when the front line starters were ou--

What was I saying? Nothing? That's right. Ok, on to the Mets rotation: Maine (3.60/1.13), Glavine (3.82/1.33), Trachsel (4.97/1.60), Perez (6.38/1.58 with the Mets & 6.55/1.75 overall). With Maine & Glavine the Mets actually stack up nicely with the opposition. In fact, if Duque's able to pitch, I'd actually give the Mets the advantage here. But we certainly can't count on his return, Trachsel and Perez are awful by any standard, and even though Penny is just the type of fat bum with a straight fastball the Mets feast on, we can't even be sure the boys'll face him.

Gotta give the edge to the Dodgers here, by a healthy margin ("Healthy," get it? You know, because of the Mets starters lack of . . . oh, never mind). I think the Mets bats can & will rock these starters, but the Dodgers lineup is very good and games 3 and 4 could get out of hand very early. Even if Darren Oliver doesn't start, he could be in the game early, with many innings to eat.

Bullpen: Now I'll be the first to admit I don't know shit about the Dodgers bullpen, but after a quick look at the numbers, I have to admit that Saito (2.07/0.91 with 107 Ks in 78+) & Broxton (2.59/1.23 with 97 Ks in 76+) look dominant. But . . . that's it! The rest of the bullpen is made up of guys like Joe Beimel (2.96/1.30 with 30Ks, 21 BBs in 70), Danys Baez (4.35/1.29 with 29 Ks, 11 BBs in 49+), and a bunch of other no-names and nobodies with high ERAs, high WHIPs and high likelihoods for implosion.

If the Mets can get to the Dodger starters before the 7th inning, this could get ugly (actually get pretty from our perspective) real fast. I just don't see this cast of clowns holding down the Met bats if they have to appear in more than one game. That said, if the Dodgers can get the game to Broxton & Saito, looks like trouble.

Assuming the Mets pen plays to its ability, this is a mismatch. But with Wagner looking a tad shaky down the stretch (12 H over his last 8 IP; 7 H & 2 R in the last 3 IP), Heilman always being a bit of a headcase, and secret weapon Guillermo Mota returning to face his old team, there are emotional question marks here. That said, there's just too much depth and talent to get that worried. Plus, the Mets have guys like Oliver & Chad-Brad to come in if the starters run into trouble.

I might actually give the late game advantage to Saito/Broxton based only on the numbers, but the Met bullpen is much deeper, which could be a key with two powerful offenses on the field. Edge to Mets, by a good sized margin (if not quite as large a margin as the Dodgers starters have, assuming Duque's out).

Position Players: Even more than the bullpen, this is where the series will be won or lost for the Mets. When these hitters are on, only one team in the majors can stay with them, and they can't come along for two more rounds, so let's not sweat it. As good as the Dodger offense is, they simply have nothing like Reyes-Beltran-Delgado-Wright. Nor do they have the baserunning the Mets have, even though they finished second in the NL in SBs. Nor do they have the Mets defense, with the boys from Queens enjoying marked superiority with the leather in CF (Beltran vs. 700 year-old Kenny Lofton) and 2B (Jeff Kent, even though Julio Lugo is on the roster as well).

As to hitting, the Dodgers finished 1st in the NL in OBP. This matters, but as researchers better than I have pointed out, such offenses can be vulnerable against the better pitching staffs (read: less prone to walk guys) they face in the post-season. Either way, I won't shortchange the Dodgers on this count. They get on base more often than the Mets, rendering them less prone to slumps. But as I've already suggested, if the Mets bats slump at all, with the rotation they'll be throwing out there, they're going home. The Mets must bring their A offensive game.

And against the Dodgers pitchers, I think they will. Even with a late-season slump they finished 3rd in Runs (ahead of the Dodgers, in 4th), 8th in OBP, 3rd in SLG, 3rd in 2B, 4th in HR, 1st in SB. The Dodgers, by way of contrast, were 7th in SLG & 2Bs, and 15th in HRs. The Mets attack is more balanced, not as reliant on singles and walks. They have more ways to beat you.

Position-by-position the Mets are markedly superior at 3B & CF, slightly better at SS & 1B, and about even at C & LF. The Dodgers are better at 2B (though, as mentioned earlier, Valentin's defensive prowess over Kent narrows the gap), and significantly better in RF. Both teams have solid benches, though I might give the Dodgers a slight edge here.

Overall, Edge to the Mets at position players. Which tips the balance to Queens, overcoming the headstart LA earned via the starters.

Finally, despite my season-long complaints about Willie's shaky game management, I can't claim to be worried in the least. Why? Two words: Grady Little.

So, overall, if Duque can pitch, I'm picking the Mets in 4. If Duque can't play, and I'm assuming he won't, then I have to think it'll take 5 games for the boys to finish this thing off.

I know I said yesterday that I was picking the Mets no matter what, and that's no lie. But trust me, this is an honest prediction. I think it sucks that after finishing tied for the major's best record the Mets get rewarded with a short series matchup with the 2nd best team in the NL (on a 7 game win streak), so I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worried.

I am.

But I think unless we see a team-wide hitting slump, the bats are just too much for the good-but-not-great LA starters and their thin bullpen.

See you after Game 1.

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