By Mike Steffanos
Game 103: Mets 7 - Cardinals 2
St. Louis may be struggling recently, but they were ten games over .500 when they rolled into town and are always a tough team to beat. Given all of the brouhaha from the Phillies series, I was a little worried going into this one. It seems that the worry was unnecessary.
The Mets play most of last year without a sense of urgency and found themselves unable to find the switch when they needed it. The 2008 Mets have taken their recent success and have continued to run with it. If they continue to play well and play with that sense of urgency, I have a hard time making a case for them not playing October baseball. On the other hand, if they start to get complacent we all remember where that could go.
I don't believe either the Phillies or Marlins are going away. I wouldn't totally count the Braves out, either, although I think they're in the position the Mets were in the beginning of July -- needing to prove they can sustain a run of longer than a few days.
Speaking of that, I was curious to look back at the month-by-month totals for the Mets, Phillies and Marlins to see how this season has evolved. Here are the totals through yesterday:
|March||1 - 0 (+1)||0 - 1 (-1)||0 - 1 (-1)|
|April||13 - 12 (+1)||15 - 12 (+3)||15 - 11 (+4)|
|May||13 - 15 (-2)||17 - 12 (+5)||16 - 11 (+5)|
|June||13 - 15 (-2)||12 - 14 (-2)||12 - 16 (-4)|
|July||16 - 5 (+11)||10 - 10 (0)||11 - 10 (+1)|
|Total||56 - 47 (+9)||54 - 49 (+5)||54 - 49 (+5)|
Throwing out March, the Mets have had two winning months and two losing months (through last night). The Phillies have had two winning months, one even, and one losing month. The Marlins have had three winning months and one losing. Again, there are six days to go in July.
Both the Phillies and Marlins got off to good starts in the first two full months while the Mets floundered. June wasn't a great month for any of the teams, which often happens to NL clubs in interleague play. Then the Mets streaked in July while the other two clubs have about broken even.
According to BaseballReference.com, the 56-47 Mets are playing exactly to their Pythagorean W-L, which basically uses run differential to predict a team's record. The 54-49 Phillies are underperforming by four games (58-45). The Fish are playing way over their head, at least according to this metric. Their 54-49 record is five wins better than their expected 49-54 record. Take these numbers for whatever you feel they are worth -- I find them interesting, but not really predictive of how the rest of the year might go.
Although I like the fact the Mets were the only team to really have a great month, these monthly totals for the Mets are somewhat cautionary for me. Basically, July has been great, but I'd like to see a solid August from them before I'm convinced they're the team to beat. You have to prove it for more than a month, no matter how good that month was. I guess you can say the same thing about Delgado.
The Mets will probably go as far as their starting pitching can take them this season. I know I've done this a lot, but what Mike Pelfrey has done over his last 11 starts is remarkable:
|Mike Pelfrey (Last 11 starts)|
The Mets bullpen, while not terrible, just isn't that great this season. The importance of starting pitching for the Mets to be able to enjoy another month of winning baseball can't be overstated. Pelfrey's emergence has been crucial to the success so far. While it's not realistic to expect ace-quality starts through the end of the season, I think a return to the ineffective Pelfrey from early on is unlikely.
The real question with him is how he holds up as the season stretches on and he goes into unfamiliar territory. Mike pitched 117.2 innings at all levels in 2006 and 152.2 last season. He's already at 122.2 this year, and will make about 10-11 more starts this season. He's likely to experience some sort of fatigue down the stretch.
One quick note on the bullpen. I had a debate with a friend of mine who didn't like the way Manuel managed the ninth last night. He felt Duaner Sanchez shouldn't have been used at all after the meltdown Tuesday night. I disagreed, thinking that Sanchez is important to our chances and getting him back on the horse was a good move -- particularly with a six-run lead.
Of course, it didn't go well. We all sweated the ninth when Sanchez allowed a walk and two hits without retiring anyone. I wondered if he might be somehow tipping his pitches, but the Cardinals had some bad swings against him that would argue against that. His velocity wasn't great, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's experiencing physical problems. He might be trying to be too fine -- when you give up hit after hit, it's hard to trust your stuff.
As important as Sanchez is, I still agreed with Manuel taking him out with the bases loaded. Sure, he could have given him one more batter and still had some margin for error, but the Mets simply couldn't chance blowing another game with a big lead in the ninth. Nice job by Heilman and Feliciano to end it with a minimum of additional agita.