the padres' lack of bench depth hurt them in the nlds; it enabled la russa to play the matchups fearlessly and get those rookie relievers into situations that favored them. these are the players the mets will likely have available coming off the bench:
julio franco: .273 / .330 / .370
chris woodard: .216 / .289 / .311
ramon castro: .238 / .322 / .389
michael tucker: .196 / .378 / .321
ricky ledee: .188 / .242 / .329
i'm assuming here that cliff floyd's injury keeps him out of the series, with endy chavez moving into the starting lineup and ledee moving onto the active roster as a bench guy. you'll also note that it's only a five-man bench; willie randolph carried 12 pitchers in the nlds, and understandably so -- with all the injuries to his rotation, he needs arms in bulk.
to my eye, that's a pretty useless bench. the only real assets are franco and castro, athough ledee can sting a right-hander -- he did post a .778 OPS last season, and this year's tiny sample size doesn't reflect his actual abilities. the mets could also opt for rookie lastings milledge, who bats right and put up a .241 / .310 / .381 line. new york doesn't rely on its bench as much as the padres, who had platoons at three positions; the met lineup is more or less set, so these bench players will probably not be subbing in for a regular unless there's an injury. that's mainly a reflection of how strong the mets' starting 8 are -- but it also means la russa won't have to play much cat-n-mouse to get the matchups he wants. if he brings in a right-hander to face lo duca or a lefty to pitch to shawn green, there'll be no countermoves forthcoming. the only exception might be endy chavez, who conceivably could be lifted for franco if la russa confronts him with a LOOGY late in the game.
two of the mets' three switch-hitters (beltran and jose valentin) are much weaker against left-handers; jose reyes fares worse vs rhp. so to get through the met lineup per matchups, la russa will probably want to go:
- rhp to face reyes and lo duca
- lhp to face beltran and delgado
- rhp for wright
- lhp for green chavez and valentin
the cardinal bench -- spiezio, rodriguez, duncan/wilson, taguchi, and miles -- has a lot more weapons on it than the mets'. it's a small edge, but upset-seekers gotta take those wherever they can get'm.
Valatan weighed in with some pre-series thoughts. here's how he calls it:
First, the pitching MUST hold up. Shea is nearly as pitcher-friendly as PetCo, but Jos? Reyes and Carlos Delgado are a LOT scarier than Dave Roberts and Russ Branyan. If the staff rewinds to July this will be a very, very short series. I'm hoping (and believing) that what we just saw was a bunch of guys finding their stride, and not the staff getting lucky against a free-swinging Padres club. But the real test comes Wednesday. Let's hope that Jason Marquis has lost the keys to the duck tour bus.
The offense has to destroy Steve Traschel, John Maine, and whoever the fourth starter is. First, who is the Mets' fourth starter? Aaron Hielman? He's pretty valuable for them as a setup guy, and hasn't been consistent in the rotation for them. Oliver P?rez? He has been horrendously bad, despite having so much talent. Are they going to just use three guys and bring up Maine and Glavine on short rest? That seems like a bad idea, with with Glavine being ancient (he has logged 207 career postseason innings!) and rookies relying largely on hitters not knowing their stuff. Regardless of what solution the ol' Metropolitians come up with, the Cards are not going to win this series without absolutely slaughtering the back end of the Mets' staff. The Cardinals' pitching staff is not going to blank the Mets the way that they did the Padres. The guys in red are going to have to put some runs up on the board. Doing that against Glavine might be too much to ask (and I'm going to consider any win that the Cards get against Glavine to be a bonus), but if they can't put up gads of runs on Steve Traschel, then they don't deserve to win the series anyway.
Obviously, the bullpen needs to continue playing well. Anyone else remember this game? They need to not do that again. I really believe in this youth corps that Tony has assembled. Let's see them keep it up when it matters most. The advantage to using these guys? Their late debut makes other teams' scouting of them quite poor. Other teams have certainly had a chance to see Wainwright pitch, but Johnson and Kinney? Probably not so much. In the postseason, with so many fewer teams, I believe that having a scouting edge is pretty critical. Wainwright has looked like a legitimate closer, and if he anchors things, then Tony's theory of "bullpen roles" fills out pretty nicely.
Finally, the team can't beat itself. This should be obvious, but a lot of the regular sesason losing was simply the team underperforming and allowing itself to get the win drained from its sails and get itself beaten. It has also been a problem with all of the TLR-era postseason collapses. They can't let themselves do that here. lboros has already noted that Tony may have turned a new leaf. Perhaps his team will stay loose in the NLCS this time. Perhaps.
The thing that makes me happy is that this list, especially after the Padres series, doesn't seem all that unreasonable. I believe that all of these things can be accomplished by the current guys on the roster, and that this reenergized team might be even an even bet to beat this severely depleted Mets team. Logically, I still can't believe in an upset of this magnitude, but practically, I'm going to believe that anything is possible, for better or worse.
Especially with the 2006 Cardinals.