Wednesday, May 14, 2008

19 20 to Survive

Note: Edited because I forgot that the Mets have a Doubleheader in Atlanta on Tuesday.

I mentioned this briefly yesterday. It had been posed to me in an e-mail on Tuesday morning that the Mets pretty much had to win the final 3 games of the Nationals series because of the upcoming schedule. The Mets, over the next 2 1/2 weeks, will be playing the following teams:

Washington 3 2 (5/13-5/15)
@ Yankees 3 (5-16-5/18)
@ Atlanta 3 4 (5/20-5/22)
@ Colorado 3 (5/23-5/25)
vs. Florida 3 (5/26-5/28)
vs. Los Angeles 4 (5/29-6/1)

19 20 games against some of the league's best. True, the Yankees aren't the powerhouse they have been, but they're still a very good team, and true, the Marlins will likely come back to earth soon, but still, this is a stretch of 19 20 games that should, more or less, determine who the Mets are and where they're going in 2008. Last season, there was a similar stretch in June, where the Mets played, over the course of 3 weeks, every team that made the playoffs in 2006. By and large, they survived, although that's a fairly kind way to put it. They didn't play well over that stretch (8-10 over that 18-game stretch, although it's 8-13 if you add in the 3-game sweep by Philly that preceded it), and the result was that the team was listless the rest of the season. The performance over that stretch pretty much spelled out the rest of the season. It didn't end well.

This stretch ought to tell you about as much. I hate to put pressure on games in May, but let's be realistic. The Mets are basically teetering on the brink of obscurity. Heads are already beginning to roll, and if the team doesn't improve, wholesale changes will need to be made. The first of the 19 20 games was last night, and the Mets won. If the Mets go 9-10 10-10, it's not great. Anything worse than 7-12 7-13, and it may be time to think about rolling some more heads. 5-14 6-14, and it's time to clean house and build for 2009. If the Mets get hot and roll off a 13-6 14-6 stretch, everything's OK. This will be a good barometer for the rest of the season.

So, last night, the Mets beat the Nationals, which they should be doing on general principle. John Maine summoned his greatest inner strength, shunning the black, bleak, looming specter of doom that hovered over the stadium like a dark cloud on a cold, lonely November afternoon, and brought forth another sterling performance. He set the tone early, drilling Felipe Lopez with his first pitch ("It slipped," he said.), perhaps in retaliation for the cheerleading going on in the Nationals dugout on Monday (a word on that: Yes, it was ridiculous. But think of the possibilities. Why isn't Lastings now showered with mocking "Let's Go Millie!" chants?). After that, Maine settled right back into his regular groove, getting out of jams, and departing after only allowing 2 runs and 2 hits over 6 innings, and picking up a win when Ryan Church's line drive somehow sailed over the head of Austin Kearns for the winning double. Washington did make it close late in the game, but the Mets got the tack-on runs they needed and cruised to a much needed 6-3 victory.

Too bad John Maine can't take the ball every night. It's also too bad that Rick Peterson has conditioned him to only throw 100 pitches a game (109 last night) and God forbid he throws more than that. But that's another gripe for another time. 1-0 for the 19 20-game stretch. Claudio Vargas tonight. Why does it seem as though I'm always in attendance when these spot starters make their appearance. I've seen Lima, Jeremi Gonzalez and Chan Ho Park over the last 3 seasons, now Vargas. Well, like I said yesterday. Close your eyes and hope for the best.

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