In the spirit of brotherly love (i.e. killing space and increasing page traffic before the start of the Mets game) we reopen the information superhighway between Metsblog and Beerleaguer.
Metsblog contributor Mike Nichols reintroduces the long-lost art of the Q&A exchange with a well-informed grilling about the state of the Phillies. Click here to read what I have to say about Brett Myers, productive outs, Pat Burrell’s struggles at home and my response to this tough one: “What do you believe the Phillies biggest issue is going into the final month of the season?”
Meanwhile, Nichols offers five keys for the Mets this series:
Mets Bullpen: Obviously the Mets bullpen is the most important factor coming into the series. With the absence of Billy Wagner and no proven closer among the group, it will be a tricky proposition to expect them to hold any lead, especially against the Phillies. Since this rivalry started to take shape in 2006, the Phillies have always had great success against the Mets bullpen. Jerry Manuel has done a good job trying to work matchups in his favor - however, I do believe he is relying too heavily on Aaron Heilman of late - but ultimately it comes down to execution and very rarely have they done that this season. If Manuel is forced to get anything more than 12 total outs from his bullpen in this series, the odds shift heavily in the Phillies favor.
Hitting late: The Mets lead the league in runs in the first inning with 111 and have scored in the first frame in 14 of their last 18 games. They've gotten off to good starts this season, but on the flip side, they are last in the league with 142 runs scored between innings 7-9. The Mets cannot afford for their bats to go silent late in these games, especially with their bullpen, which is last in the league in ERA since the All-Star break, facing a Phillies offense that does a terrific job coming back in games versus the Mets. If they get an early lead, they'll need to continue to build on it, or it could be a recipe for disaster.
The Two Starters: It's important for Pedro Martinez, who is 1-1 with a 3.16 ERA since coming of the disabled list on August 1, to set the tone in tonight's first game. I don't expect him to go more than six innings, but if he matches innings with Jaime Moyer I will be more happy. The key for Pedro is to get out of the first inning - he has allowed six homeruns and 15 first inning runs this season. It's also important for Johan Santana to continue his good August (3-0, 1.49 ERA) and provide the Mets with another dominate start against the Phillies, who are hitting just .209 against him this season.
Jose Reyes: As they say, 'as Reyes goes, so go the Mets.' And his season splits prove it. In the Mets 73 wins this season, Reyes is hitting .324 with 43 extra-bases hits, 40 RBI and 71 runs scored. In their 59 losses, Reyes is hitting only .269 with 19 extra-base hits, 13 RBI and 20 runs scored. For the Mets to be successful in this series, Reyes needs to get on base and cause havoc.
Jerry Manuel: It would rare that I would consider a manager a key to the game, however, Jerry Manuel's late-inning decision making will be key. Manuel is going to be have to very careful of how he handles his starters. If you remember, Johan Santana was lifted in the eighth inning his last two starts versus the Phillies - both dominate performances - after throwing 95 and 105 pitches, respectfully. In both cases the Mets bullpen blew the lead and eventually lost the game. I think he has learned from those mistakes, but still, Manuel's late-inning choices in the next two games could be a determining factor if the Mets are successful in this series.
Thanks to Mike Nichols for his report, and as always, check out Metsblog for all your needs from Queens.