Here’s an incredible thought. If the 2009 Mets play like they did through 145 games in each of the last two seasons, they could win the National League’s Eastern Division title — or at least make the playoffs — by simply going 9-8 over their last 17 games. That would be a two-game improvement over last season (7-10), which was a two-game improvement over 2007 (5-12).
Or stated another way, if everyone plays up to their 2007 and 2008 level and the two new bullpen additions, Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz, play up to theirs, the Mets will probably take not only the division but the pennant. Or to paraphrase Churchill, in October Omar Minaya may well be saying that never in the history of the New York Mets has so much been owed by so many to just two.
That’s how important K-Rod and Putz are. If you don’t believe it, ask Johan Santana. El Lefty was everything the Mets hoped for last year —
everything, in fact, we predicted he would be — giving the team a career-high 234.3 innings and going 16-7 with an ERA of 2.53. The Mets
bullpen cost Santana the Cy Young Award, giving up the lead seven times after Johan left the mound.
Of course, the bullpen cost the Mets much more than just seven or so victories for their ace. From September 10 to the end of the season, their ERA was more than six runs per nine innings, and they blew five games in which the Mets had the lead. (And squandered seven ninth inning leads for the season, the most in either league.)
Rodriguez and Putz turn the Mets’ biggest weakness into one of the team’s greatest strengths. This assumes that John Maine can come back from arthroscopic shoulder surgery and Oliver Perez and Mike Pelfrey can win, say, 25 games between them — and with Putz and K-Rod out there helping to shorten most of their starts to seven innings, that seems to be a very good bet.
Exactly who will make up the balance of the 25-30 starts isn’t clear yet, but the addition of K-Rod and Putz and the subtraction of 50 or 60 late inning appearances by Billy Wagner and the rest of the ciphers the Mets were using last year in those situations should easily translate into an additional five or six wins. If a couple of those come against the Phillies and the rest of the Mets hold up — and if Philadelphia doesn’t win more than the 93 games they won last year — then … Yes, we know: if, if, if. But at least this time around Minaya and the Wilpons pulled the strings on deals that addressed the biggest problem of the last two seasons. The Mets may not go all the way, but at least they’re likely to avoid another collapse.
In 2008 the Mets finished 6th in the National League in team ERA, 4.07. Part of that, as all Mets fans know, was attributable to playing half
their games in Shea, a good pitcher’s park. We won’t know how Citifield will impact hitting and pitching until they get some games in — the
dimensions don’t look good for home run hitters, but that doesn’t mean the park won’t be a better place for scoring runs than Shea. Our guess is that the differences between Shea and Citifield won’t be great — at least until they change the flight patterns in and out of LaGuardia.
Putz and K-Rod should shave a full 0.3-0.4 of a run off the team’s ERA, which means that the Mets should have one of the four or even three
most effective staffs in the league.
It goes without saying that this optimistic projection only applies if Santana can make his usual 30-35 starts. Without Johan, the best bullpen in the NL will mean little, and if something happens to his arm, the Mets won’t have to wait until September to collapse.
Friday: Yankees pitching.