Why sprint when you can stumble? To wit:
Team A: Losers of 10 out of 14 to close out a division-winning season.
Team B: Losers of 8 out of 14 to finish in the wild card, but blowing a late-season division lead.
Team C: Winners of 4 straight to end a season in which they finished in first place in their league.
Team D: Holds a slim division lead with a record that is worse than the wild card team.
You can probably guess who these teams are. Team C is the 2006 Mets, who blew everyone in the National League out of the water, just to lose to Team A, the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals, in the NLCS. And those Cardinals went on to win the World Series over the American League Champion, Team B, the Detroit Tigers, who struggled in September in their own right.
The point is, if last year constitutes a trend, it's not how you play in September, but in October, that matters. And Team D, the 2007 Mets, look like they might have righted the ship just enough to make it to October to play some playoff baseball.
They actually haven't done too poorly in September. They are 12-8 through Saturday in the month, which isn't awful. The sweep by the Phillies dominates the landscape, but the Mets did take 4 out of 5 from Atlanta in the month, and sweep the Astros. The danger, of course, is that the Phillies have played so well, and gave the Mets a scare...and then the teams in the National League West have played well enough to box the East loser out of the wild card.
What are the shining spots for the Mets this month? They've had a tremendous shot in the arm from Pedro Martinez*, and David Wright has done his best to carry the team on his shoulders. Wright is the first 30-30 man on the Mets in 20 years.
(Someone else playing out of his mind is Moises Alou. With a 1-for-4 on Saturday, Alou is now riding a 26-game hitting streak, tying Wright's team mark set earlier this year, and extending his own record of a single-season Mets' hitting streak.)
The slate gets wiped clean in about a week. We can only hope that the Mets will still have a slate...and that once they advance, they continue with their ability to beat teams not in the NL East.
WRIGHT WATCH: David Wright has 40 doubles. With 8 games left, he needs 5 doubles to break Bernard Gilkey's single-season record of 44.
COMMENTS/E-MAIL: Thanks to Dave in Brighton for clarifying the controversy over the Red Sox celebration. My point remains, though, that they still deserved to celebrate, since they were one of just 8 teams to advance to the playoffs. I'm OK with that. And my point still remains that the Mets had better not touch champagne until they win the NLCS.
An e-mail from a concerned Steve in Queens:
As I am sure you can imagine, the last 6 days have been absolutely killing me. If I were Minaya; Mota, Heilman, Delgado, Sele, Schoenweiss would all be taken out back and tortured. The Mets bullpen is the worst thing I have seen in a few years. I just can't believe what is happening. Either they don't score for their starting pitcher, or they do and their starter sucks. I am extremely concerned that the Mets will not be making the playoffs this year because the way I see it, it is Division or bust. And if the Mets do make the playoffs and get past the first round, and have to face the Phillies in the NLCS, they will be completely screwed. Anyway, I can't blame you for not writing for the past few weeks. I wouldn't have either. Talk soon.
Steve (disgruntled Mets fan from Queens)"
Well, Steve, the good news is that only one team is coming out of the East. The wild card race has gotten away from the Mets and Phillies since you wrote. The bad news is, the Phillies have almost as good a shot as the Mets at winning the division.
For the Mets, it's all up to them - they control their fate. With Saturday's win, the magic number is down to 7, and the Phillies are playing as I write this. So I don't think all hope is lost once the Mets make the playoffs. They've had success against San Diego and Arizona, and goodness knows they kill the National League Central.
Let's also not lose sight of just how hard it is to win a division. Some teams (Yankees, Braves) have done it so much that it appears to be easy to accomplish. The Mets are on the verge of winning back-to-back division titles for the first time in their history. It doesn't matter that it wasn't the prettiest season - they can be division champs again. And that goes a long way towards building some confidence heading into the post-season.