Monday, October 01, 2007

Why the Phillies, Why Not the Mets

In the end, the same thing won the NL East for the Phillies that doomed the Mets: pitching. The back end of the Phillies' bullpen - Tom Gordon, JC Romero, and Brett Myers - came together at the right time, shutting down opponents and taking the ball night after night. Meanwhile, the starters were better than expected (Kyle Lohse, Kyle Kendrick) or at least not utterly catastrophic (Jamie Moyer, Adam Eaton), and the Phillies' bats kept on doing what they'd been doing all year - beating the living hell out of anything baseball-shaped. Whatever you think of the merits of Jimmy Rollins' MVP campaign, it's clear that he set the tone for this team, one that didn't give up even when they were couldn't get over .500, were friccaseed with injuries, or seven back with a mere seventeen to play. They did what they had been doing all year, with the addition of a shutdown pen, and in the end, that was good enough.

The Mets, on the other hand, can blame this one squarely on their pitching. Given a season-closing stretch of the soft underbelly of the National League, they instead found new and exciting ways to give games away. The culprit? Once again, pitching, though with an assist from a defense that suddenly went AWOL. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if 19 runs over 3 games doesn't buy you at least one win against the soft-swinging Nationals, something's wrong. And in this case, the something was the pitching. An old and fragile rotation that wore down by the end of the year, a bullpen that never jelled, and the late-season disappearance of All-Star blame dodger Billy Wagner all contributed to the Mets' pitching just not being good enough to win major league ballgames. Don't blame the bats for this one; for the most part, the hitters did their jobs. The pitchers just didn't bail them out.

Incidentally, one wonders when the blame for this will start settling on Wagner's shoulders. For years, he's been cruising on an undeserved reputation as a stand-up guy that seems mostly predicated on throwing his teammates under the bus to distract from his failures. It was his meltdowns against the Astros that cost the Phillies a playoff spot in 2005, after all, not the Pat Burrells of the world that he started blaming from a safe distance of 90 miles up I-95. Now he's got a hatchet job on his pitching coach and manager the day of the biggest game of the year to explain, not to mention his mysterious disappearances when the Mets first started to slide. Then there's the 9.00 ERA over the last seven games of the season. Small sample size, I know, but isn't that precisely when "proven standup guys" are supposed to excel?

In the end, blame for this one will no doubt be assigned to Willie Randolph's "poor managing and motivation" of the team, to Jose Reyes' disappearance in September, and to the mysterious power of the choke. That's the story that history will no doubt remember. For my part, however, I'd prefer to remember that the Phillies finally put it all together, right as the Mets' pitching fell apart.
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