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March Madness in October Gives Hope



By Mike Silva ~ October 20th, 2011. Filed under: New York Mets, Outside the Apple.

So you think your team’s cause is hopeless? Think again. The Cardinals are 3 wins away from another championship and once again proving that all you need to do is get to October and you have a chance. With the advent of a second Wild Card by 2013, teams should take note and try to keep as much of their core together, despite any flaws throughout the roster. This is actually a good sign for the Mets and others of their ilk, who could easily be the Cardinals at some point in the near future.

There are so many obvious flaws with St. Louis. Their rotation is average, closer uninspiring, and the middle relief is a collection of specialization arms. The offense is surprising good, as they led the National League, but most years it’s Albert Pujols and the gang. A rejuvenated Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday changed that this year, unlike many of Tony La Russa’s clubs the last decade. Of course, there is La Russa, who clearly is an advantage in any series. The point is the Cardinals players know their roles, play within themselves, and don’t make mistakes. That is a dangerous formula in a seven game series.

How does this relate to the Mets? Well, it’s not exactly like the Cards roster is loaded with stars. David FreeseJon JayOctavio Dotel, and Jason Motte aren’t All Stars. If you find the right combination of role players around your core you can win. St. Louis proved that in 2006 and might do it against by next week.

There is part of me that would love Sandy Alderson to rip this thing apart and start it over. There is something about the hope of a fresh start that makes me embrace a roster sans Jose Reyes and David Wright. It’s Alderson’s responsibility to stay firm on his breaking point with Reyes, as overpaying him could come back to haunt the franchise later on, perhaps when they have some promising young arms reaching their prime. It’s also his responsibility to see what David Wright‘s value is on the open market. Everyone says you can’t get a “Mark Teixeira-like” return for Wright, but how do they know? Remember when everyone said that Carlos Beltran had no value? He only fetched the top pitching prospect in the Giants organization, and one of the best in baseball.

But then you watch St. Louis and wonder if a team with Reyes and Wright healthy and productive can make a run. Who knows, maybe Ike Davis makes it’s a trio of stars. There are complementary players that are promising like Murphy, Duda, Tejada, and Thole. The Mets starting rotation isn’t all that worse than St. Louis. If Johan Santana returns to 75% of his former self that is still a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. As for the bullpen, it’s a mess, but you can mix and match kids and veterans to find a winning combination.

Obviously, the key is Reyes. If they can bring him back without destroying future payroll flexibility it makes sense. If not, then perhaps this is a conversation for 2013 or beyond.

If they can find a way to afford Reyes, then why can’t the Mets be next year’s version of the Cardinals with the right offseason moves? Look at some of the team’s that have made surprising runs over the last decade: Anaheim in 2002, Chicago in 2005, St. Louis in 2006, and San Francisco last year. Each did it with a different formula. None of them were favorites the year before. Anaheim was a second division club.

With the structure of the playoffs and additional Wild Card there is hope for the Mets. There is hope for others as well. If you have some stars and the right complementary players you can compete in what has become the October version of March Madness.

***

The parity we see in baseball is a great thing. I love the Texas-St. Louis storylines. Ron Washington, Tony La Russa, Chris Carpenter, and Nelson Cruz are just some of the cool storylines.

It’s better than hearing about the inevitability of the Phillies rotation, or the totalitarian “winning or misery” comments of the Yankees Randy Levine.

***

Notice I don’t get all caught up in the ratings? If network executives are looking for the World Series to match the NFL, then they are setting themselves up for a disappointment.

Baseball is a regional sport. The ratings were huge in St. Louis and Dallas. That is all you can ask for.

Funny, all I heard during the Subway Series in 2000 was how the rest of the country didn’t care and the ratings were terrible.

Again, baseball is a regional sport.

Manage expectations and you won’t be disappointed.

***

Octavio Dotel has been outstanding for the Cardinals this postseason. Acquired from Toronto at the deadline in the controversial Colby Rasmus trade, he’s given up 1 run in 7 appearances.

Quietly, Dotel has carved himself out a nice career. When he made his debut for the Mets in June of 1999, he didn’t have great command of all his pitches. I do remember him competing and winning 7 games as a starter for a team thin in the rotation. He walked quite a few batters, but struck out almost 10/per 9. His 5.35 ERA as a starter was skewed due to an awful performance at Wrigley Field where he gave up 9 runs in 2 innings. I do remember thinking he had guts and he would compete each time out even when he really didn’t have it. Many forget he made the postseason roster and was the winning pitcher in the Grand Slam Single game versus Atlanta.

Dotel was already 25 years old and the Mets needed an ace, so they sent him to Houston with Roger Cedeno for Mike Hampton. That move was why they won the 2000 pennant. Even though he was their only true pitching prospect at the time the deal was worth the price. You never pass up a chance to win a pennant.

Dotel would never make it as a starter, but he’s been a decent bullpen piece throughout his career. A closer in Houston, Oakland and Pittsburgh, but primarily a setup man, he’s compiled a 3.74 career ERA in 13 seasons. Wow, I can’t believe it’s been that long. I remember that summer of ’99 like it was yesterday (I feel old typing this). His ERA+ of 121 puts him in the top 50 of relievers with 400 appearances since he debuted. With all the arms that have come out of bullpens the last decade+, Dotel is in the top 50; not bad at all.

Now 37, Dotel is a free agent at the end of the year. Who knows if he returns to St. Louis? Maybe he becomes the 2012 version of Jason Isringhausen (also traded in 1999), and comes full circle to help the depleted Mets bullpen.

***

Speaking of the 1999 Mets, I still think that season was a ton of fun. Maybe the most fun Mets season post-1986. It was very much like this Cardinals group as they won with their bats and bullpen. Rickey Henderson had his last great season as a leadoff hitter (.423 OBP) at the age of 40. Robin Ventura drove in 120 runs and won a gold glove along with Rey Ordonez. The “best infield ever” also had John Olerud getting on base 43% of the time and Edgardo Alfonzo breaking out with 108 ribbies and 27 homers. That was also Piazza’s first full season in New York and he hit 40 homers. Who can forget Todd Pratt‘s home run off Arizona’s Matt Mantei in the division series. Role players like Pratt, Matt FrancoDarryl Hamilton, and Benny Agbayani all become cult heroes at Shea.

You had the drama of the coaches getting fired at Yankee Stadium during the Subway Series. Ironically, that news broke just hours after Larry Johnson’s 4-point play at MSG for the Knicks in the Eastern Conference Finals. What a crazy New York sports night. Bobby Valentine predicted they would go 40-15 after that incident or he would be fired. Amazingly they did just that. Let’s also not forget the fake mustache just days later.

I still think they would have ridden the momentum if they pulled off Game 6 against the Braves and would have won a Game 7. It would have been the Mets, not the Red Sox, to pull off the greatest upset ever. I also think the ’99 team had a better shot than the 2000 club against the Yankees in the World Series because of the stronger offense.

Alas, back to reality and the issues of today.

Maybe it’s a sim series to play down the road.

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Mike Silva has hosted sports shows on 107.1 FM Champions ESPN Radio Long Island ,1240 AM WGBB , Blog Talk Radio and live from Mickey Mantle’s Restaurant. He’s also built and maintained two popular social media hubs: New York Baseball Digest and Sports Media Watchdog. Mike has broken national and local stories, as well as been mentioned on the YES Network, SNY.tv, WFAN, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, NY Daily News, New York Magazine, Journal News and the NY Post. Contact Mike professionally at mikesilvamedia.com

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1 Response to March Madness in October Gives Hope

  1. Stu B

    The Cardinals are overachieving as they did in 2006, and I have to think that it’s because of LaRussa’s managing as much as anything else – similar to Bobby Valentine in his time, and perhaps Tommy Lasorda with the Dodgers in 1988. Unfortunately, I don’t think Terry Collins is capable of making a team overachieve that way.

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