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October 2, 2000
New York Mets vs. San Francisco Giants
Without much fanfare, the San Francisco Giants had the best record in the National League this season. The Mets didn't put up as good a record as they did in 1999, but were never really challenged for the NL's wild-card this time.
Lineups (AVG/OBP/SLG/Equivalent Average)
(Ed. Note: For players who played for multiple teams, their EqA only reflects their performance with their current team.)
LF Benny Agbayani (.289/.391/.480/.297)
CF Marvin Benard (.263/.342/.396/.262)
The Mets bring two great hitters (Mike Piazza and Edgardo Alfonzo), one good one (Benny Agbayani) and a bunch of question marks. Agbayani has been fighting a sore hamstring for the last few days, which could put Darryl Hamilton in the lineup and weaken it further. They're hardly putting up a championship profile. The Mets are also sorely lacking in left-handed pop, with the lineup's one lefthanded hitter, Robin Ventura, having battled rotator cuff soreness all season.
Those are the positives. Behind those three, you have Derek Bell, whose comeback season fizzled after April; he hit .237/.319/.390 after a first hot month, which by rights should put him on the bench and Bubba Trammell in the lineup. Ventura has been hurt, and re-aggravated the shoulder injury two weeks ago. Mike Bordick went right back to his bad self after coming over to the NL, and Todd Zeile is below average offensively for a first baseman.
That said, it would be disingenuous to ignore one thing: The Mets finished seventh in the NL in runs scored this year, and they probably would have finished fifth if they played their home games in a neutral park. The superb bats of Piazza and Alfonzo do go a long way.
The Giants had the best offensive showing of any team in the majors, scoring more than 900 runs despite playing in what has so far been an extreme pitchers' park. With three players sporting stat lines above .330/.410/.590 (Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent and Ellis Burks), the Giants have enough oomph in the middle of the lineup to outweigh the lesser lights at the top.
Only center fielder Marvin Benard and third baseman Bill Mueller are really below positional averages, and the fact that neither posted an OBP over .350 this year probably cost Barry Bonds 20 RBI and possibly the MVP award. What's worse is that Benard posted a 558 OPS against left-handers this year, yet continues to play against them. The Mets will start two of the best lefties in the game against the Giants, so Benard could be looking at an 0-for-10.
OF Bubba Trammell (.265/.345/.457/.263*)
RF Armando Rios (.266/.347/.502/.287)
If the Mets have to dig into their bench, they're in trouble. They're thin at every position but catcher (Todd Pratt) and outfield (Bubba Trammell), and they don't have an effective left-handed hitter in their arsenal.
Similarly, the Giants lack punch from their reserves, with only Armando Rios and Felipe Crespo bringing much to the table. Ramon Martinez put up a nice average this year, but doesn't have much beyond that. Russ Davis brings the possibility of the long ball but can't be put in the field, limiting his usefulness.
Rotations (Support-Neutral Wins Above Replacment, ERA)
Mike Hampton (4.4, 3.14)
Livan Hernandez (3.3, 3.75)
The Giants' rotation lacks a marquee name or a Cy Young candidate, but it has had consistently solid performances from all five starters; indeed, all five pitchers ended up with positive SNWAR. However, depth isn't necessarily an advantage in the playoffs; in the first series, we'll probably see just Livan Hernandez, Shawn Estes and Russ Ortiz.
Ortiz is a questionable choice; his +0.4 SNWAR is the worst among the Giants' five starters, and his 5.01 ERA was the worst by nearly three-fourths of a run. Even more unsettling is the .452 slugging percentage right-handed batters have posted against him this year, since the Mets' lineup and bench are overwhelmingly right-handed.
The Mets, on the other hand, are built for the playoffs: Mike Hampton has been phenomenal since the All-Star break, with a 2.88 ERA and just 34 of his 99 walks being given after that point. He's also particularly brutal on right-handed power hitters, limiting RHBs to a .309 slugging percentage this year. Al Leiter had his second superb season in the last three, but his strength--neutralizing left-handed hitters, who hit .119/.191/.237 off of him this year--isn't as valuable against the RH-leaning Giants.
Rick Reed gets the third slot. He finished strong after a variety of injuries ruined his first half, but he's also a homer-prone (28 in 184 innings this year, and 1.33 HR/9 IP over the last three years) pitcher going against the #3 home-run team in the NL.
Bullpens (Adjusted Runs Prevented, ERA)
Armando Benitez (14.2, 2.61)
Robb Nen (21.7, 1,50)
The Mets' bullpen ranked right at the average in Adjusted Runs Prevented, but that masks the shallowness of their relief corps. Beyond Armando Benitez, John Franco and Turk Wendell, the Mets didn't have an effective reliever. The previously-reliable Rick White was mediocre after being acquired and the Mets' other relievers were hit hard all year. Glendon Rusch bolsters the pen as a long reliever, although if he sees much action, it will likely mean the Mets lost their starter to injury or are getting slammed.
The Giants, on the other hand, have some depth beyond their ace closer (Robb Nen) and setup men (Felix Rodriguez and Doug Henry). Rookie southpaw Aaron Fultz was excellent against left-handed hitters, so he might get to face Robin Ventura once per game. Alan Embree recovered from a horrid first half to post a 3.38 ERA after the All-Star break, and unlike Fultz, he's effective against all hitters.
The Mets' vaunted defense fell apart this year, although the drop from Rey Ordonez to Mike Bordick is inconsequential at most. John Olerud to Todd Zeile was a substantial loss, and Robin Ventura (healthy) to Robin Ventura (hurt shoulder) is as well. The Mets' outfield defense is similarly questionable, from Jay Payton's reconstructed elbow to Derek Bell's Darrylesque tendencies. Although most folks would find it hard to believe, Mike Piazza is probably one of the team's best defenders at this point.
The Giants have a larger gap between their best defenders and their worst, but on net, defense isn't a strength for them. San Francisco boasts one of the game's best fielders at any position in left field in the person of Barry Bonds, and well-regarded corner infield defenders in J.T. Snow and Bill Mueller. Rich Aurilia, on the other hand, gives the team subpar defense at the most important infield position, while Ellis Burks and Marvin Benard are both below average in the outfield.
The Mets hold only one clear advantage here, their starting pitching. While that's crucial to postseason success, the Giants' starters aren't far behind and the Mets will have to scratch out early runs to get out of this series. The Giants have too much offensive firepower and too much depth in the bullpen to bow out this early. Giants in four.
Keith Law can be reached at email@example.com.