The Magic Number is 9

It was about 10:45 last night when the phone rang. Deb answered it and on the other end was Peter David, lamenting the tenth inning of the Mets game. We of course, turned it off after the top of the ninth, with the Mets leading 7-4, figuring the bullpen could easily get three outs.

Not so. The bullpen, sans Billy Wagner, gave up the runs and then lost it in the tenth.
I’ve been bitching about the bullpen for a while now, lamenting that Omar Minaya did not go out and upgrade the pen before rosters for post-season eligibility were locked. However, Matthew Cerrone at the wonderful Mets blog noted the following, “Over the last five games, during which the Mets are 1–4, the starting pitchers have allowed 60 percent of the 43 runs scored against the Mets.”

So, while the bullpen has proven unreliable from top to bottom, the starting rotation has not been that much better. Losing El Duque to a sore foot right about now may prove fatal since his replacement, Brian Lawrence, pitched so poorly he was released the following morning. Instead, your starters for the remaining week-plus of the season consist of Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine, John Maine, Mike Pelfrey and Oliver Perez.

Martinez has been terrific in his return from surgery but he’s still building up stamina and needs to be watched. Glavine is reliable but prone to big innings. Maine has rebounded from a dreadful mid-season and is cause for hope. Pelfrey was 0-7 earning himself a demotion but 3-0 since his return so which Pelfrey is the real one? Perez remains maddeningly inconsistent. They each need to pitch like the stopper, the ace who can hold a lead and shut down the opposition.

After all, we’re talking about the Marlins and Nationals – teams that are out of contention and looking beat one another to avoid ending the season in the basement. They are energized to play spoiler and won’t go down easily but still remain beatable.

Sandwiched in between is one game with the Cardinals, a makeup game that needs to be played.

Unfortunately, by squandering a chance to end the Phillies’ hopes over the past week, each game has to use the regulars rather than rest them all before the post-season begins. It means guys who could benefit the most from a break – David Wright, Jose Reyes, Paul LoDuca and Carlos Beltran – have to grind it out. The only one to be sort of rest is Carlos Delgado given his two week layoff given an injury.

It also means the younger arms in the bullpen won’t get the majority of opportunities, chances can’t be taken. Instead, Willie Randolph has to rely on a set of veterans whose inconsistency has driven fans, not just me, Deb and Peter, to distraction. Jorge Sosa, Guillermo Mota, Pedro Feliciano, Scott Schoeneweis, Joe Smith, Aaron Sele, Dave Williams, and Aaron Heilman will have to carry the load. A shame really, since I like what I’ve seen from Willie Collazo and Phil Humber.

They are reacting to the bullpen’s woes by calling up AA pitcher Carlos Muniz, who went 2-4 with a 2.45 ERA and 23 saves at Binghamton. His numbers look good but he’s never been the Big Leagues as yet and may be too little too late.

This is a team that has to be practically perfect for the remaining 10 games when they are better known as sloppy and unfocused. While the Yankees continue to inch closer to yet another post-season appearance, the Mets, who have been in first most of the season, are fighting for their lives rather than coasting.

I remain cautiously optimistic than can fend off the Phillies’, who have a slightly tougher schedule and facing scarier starters than the Mets. While I gotta believe, I remain very, very concerned.

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