Will The Mets Collapse Again?

I’m a lifelong Mets fan, and while they have been in four World Series and won two, they have been good enough to get there numerous times and have not. Most recently, the Mets were eliminated from playoff contention in 2007 on the season’s final day–to complete an epic collapse in which they were leading the Phillies by seven games with 17 to play. I remember those days vividly. My wife had just had our first child so I was up in the wee hours at least once a night, and every time I turned on ESPN News the Mets had lost while the Phillies had won. I get a sick feeling in my stomach when I think about it. It doesn’t help that the year before that, 2006, the Mets were painfully beaten in a Game 7 in the NLCS by the upstart (and annoying) Cardinals.

Now, it appears that recent history will repeat itself. Despite that the Mets replaced Willie Randolph with interim skipper Jerry Manuel in June, and had that amazing run in July to get back on top of the division, they continue to build 3-4 game leads only to have the Phillies catch them. Right now they sit 1/2 game behind in the NL East, and 1/2 game up in the wild card standings only because Milwaukee has had their own collapse.

Is this a repeat of 2007? How can you say it’s not looking that way? Jay Schreiber of the NY Times parallels some eerie things from last year to this year in his blog.

Me, I just feel it. The middle of the order has stopped hitting, though they did wake up last night against Washington. Still, the Mets had an 8-2 lead and won 9-7. The bullpen is maybe the worst in baseball, and are responsible for a minimum of 10 losses already. And even the starting pitchers have started slipping a little. Not even Johan Santana makes you feel like they are going to win for sure.

Throw in the fact that guys like John Lannan look like Cy Young against the Mets, and guys like Anderson Hernandez, Jorge Cantu and So Taguchi look like Ted Williams against them….and you just can’t feel good. Oh, and every day I look at the morning paper and the Phillies have won.
Seriously, do they ever lose in September?

Despite all of my negativity here, there is a good chance the Mets wind up as the wild card. They would face the Dodgers, who they match up well against. Well yeah, but don’t think someone like Casey Blake won’t hit .800 in that series. Plus, they haven’t face the Manny Ramirez Dodgers yet.

If the Mets do wind up choking here down the stretch, I won’t say I told you so. And if they make it, I’ll root for them like crazy. But I still don’t feel very confident.

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Introducing Andre Ethier: The New Face of the Dodgers

Andre EthierAfter getting called up to the big leagues in 2005, Andre Ethier was immediately traded from the Oakland Athletics to the Los Angles Dodgers, in exchange for Milton Bradley and Antonio Perez. Though the Dodgers gave up a formidable talent in Bradley, they saw something special in the minor-league right fielder. Simply stated, it was potential. When new general manager Ned Colletti was given the reins in 2005, he focused on creating a starting lineup that depended on its youngsters. Since then, he’s been brutally criticized for signing former stars to bulky contracts that have failed to pan out. However, he should be credited for completing what he set out to do way back in 2005. By dipping into his farm system instead of his check book, Colletti has made Russell Martin, Matt Kemp, James Loney, and Andre Ethier into everyday players.

At times, it’s tough to be a Dodger fan. Besides the Yankees, the Dodgers make more transactions involving blue chip players than any other organization. Their starting lineup one day may be completely different the next, as a smorgasbord of future hall-of-famers and one-time greats jump in and out of the lineup. Colletti has taken huge risks in spending enormous sums on big-name players. Manny Ramirez is proving to be his first untainted success after the unfruitful acquisitions of Andruw Jones, Rafael Furcal, Nomar Garciaparra, Juan Pierre, Jason Schmidt, and Brad Penny. Colletti is paying each of these guys at least $5 million a year and is hearing about it every day.

Then there’s Andre Ethier. After signing a one-year $425,000 deal for the 2007-08 season, Ethier has quickly matured into the Dodgers’ most economic star. Actually, forget “economic.” He is the Dodgers’ best all-around player and will soon become the face of their organization if Colletti plays his cards right. Keep in mind, Ramirez came aboard more than two-thirds into the season. At 36 years-old, Manny is a future hall-of-famer with only a few years remaining. As much as the Dodgers and their fans would love to keep the free-spirited slugger, his contract is up at the end of the season, and all signs point to Manny in pinstripes.

Ethier is only 26 and just finishing his third professional season. He has an unbelievable arm, can hit for both power and average, and has avoided injury. On a roster that contains five capable outfielders—Ethier, Jones, Kemp, Ramirez, and Pierre—Ethier has undeniably earned a starting slot. He leads the Dodgers in homeruns (20) and batting average (.299), is tied with Matt Kemp in doubles (36), and is second in RBIs (71) and triples (6). Ethier is a free agent at the end of this season and, as these numbers show, he’s proven more valuable than those other cash cows.

The Dodgers are finally breaking away from the Diamondbacks and are running a blue streak towards the pennant. This current success can be found in the bats of the veteran Ramirez and the youngster Ethier. Next year, the Dodgers are likely to look much different. (Manny Ramirez, Jeff Kent, Nomar Garciaparra, Rafael Furcal, Casey Blake, Russell Martin, James Loney, Matt Kemp, Greg Maddux, Chad Billingsley, and Derek Lowe are all up for contract renegotiation.) Hopefully, Ned Colletti will follow those same instincts he had in 2005 and focus on youth by re-signing Andre Ethier.

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