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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.)

New York

LF Benny Agbayani (.289/.391/.480/.297)
RF Derek Bell (.266/.348/.425/.268)
2B Edgardo Alfonzo .324/.425/.542/.328)
C Mike Piazza (.324/.398/.614/.330)
3B Robin Ventura (.232/.338/.439/.265)
1B Todd Zeile (.268/.356/.467/.280)
CF Jay Payton (.291/.331/.447/.260)
SS Mike Bordick (.281/.341/.443/.239*)

San Francisco

CF Marvin Benard (.263/.342/.396/.262)
3B Bill Mueller (.268/.333/.388/.253)
LF Barry Bonds (306/.440/.688/.363)
2B Jeff Kent (.334/.424/.596/.338)
1B J.T. Snow (.284/.365/.459/.286)
RF Ellis Burks (.344/.419/.606/.342)
SS Rich Aurilia (.271/.339/.444/.268)
C Bobby Estalella (.234/.357/.468/.285)

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.

Benches (AVG/OBP/SLG/EqA)

New York

OF Bubba Trammell (.265/.345/.457/.263*)
OF Darryl Hamilton (.276/.358/.362/.261)
C Todd Pratt (.275/.378/.463/.290)
PH Lenny Harris (.260/.317/.381/.295)
UT Timoniel Perez (.286/.333/.469/.270)
UT Joe McEwing (.222/.248/.366/.208)
PH Matt Franco (.239/.340/.313/.236)

San Francisco

RF Armando Rios (.266/.347/.502/.287)
C Doug Mirabelli (.230/.337/.370/.252)
IF Ramon E. Martinez (.302/.354/.487/.285)
UT Felipe Crespo (.290/.351/.443/.275)
3B Russ Davis (.261/.302/.439/.246)
OF Calvin Murray (.242/.348/.345/.253)

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)

New York

Mike Hampton (4.4, 3.14)
Al Leiter (4.2, 3.20)
Rick Reed (2.7, 4.11)
Glendon Rusch (3.0, 4.01)

San Francisco

Livan Hernandez (3.3, 3.75)
Shawn Estes (2.6, 4.26)
Russ Ortiz (0.4, 5.01)
Kirk Rueter (1.2, 3.96)

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)

New York

Armando Benitez (14.2, 2.61)
John Franco (9.7, 3.40)
Turk Wendell (17.1, 3.59)
Rick White (17.4, 3.52)
Dennis Cook (-3.0, 5.34)
Pat Mahomes (-20.1, 5.46)
Bobby J. Jones (1.2 SNWAR, 5.06)

San Francisco

Robb Nen (21.7, 1,50)
Felix Rodriguez (10.1, 2.64)
Alan Embree (-3.8, 4.95)
Doug Henry (3.0, 3.79)
Aaron Fultz (3.6, 4.67)
Joe Nathan (0.5 SNWAR, 5.21)
John Johnstone (-11.6, 6.30)
Mark Gardner (2.1 SNWAR, 4.05)

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.

Defense

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 Call

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 klaw@baseballprospectus.com.