Monday, October 02, 2006

Mets vs. Dodgers

Reasons the Dodgers will win:
1. Faith. They believe in themselves after a season of comebacks, both in the standings and on some individual magical nights. Just the right veteran core -- Nomar Garciaparra, Jeff Kent, Rafael Furcal, Kenny Lofton -- to show the way.

2. The Big Three. We've already seen what Derek Lowe, Brad Penny and Greg Maddux can weave when they're on. That 16-1 spree into August? What's a hot week compared to that?

3. It's their town. They'll just hire the better scriptwriters. And if they don't like the ending, they'll get new ones.

Achilles' heel: Playing from behind. They aren't equipped for it, never mind the occasional miracle. Like that seven-homer comeback against the Padres -- at that point, that breakout represented 5.3 percent of their season total! Six-inning motto: Ahead or dead.

Key showdowns:

1. Russell Martin vs. Jose Reyes. The rookie catcher has the footwork and arm to rein in running games, throwing out about a third of those who have tested him. Nothing will change momentum as much as an early rub-out of Reyes.

2. Joe Beimel vs. Carlos Delgado. He's brash, throws hard and is convinced no lefty hitter can get around on him. He'll get the chance to show it.

Darkhorse: Julio Lugo. He's become a bit player in La-La Land, which thrills him to no end. But the former Devil Rays shortstop can bring both speed and pop off the bench, and the spotlight will find him with Grady Little's penchant for managing 20-man games.

Reasons the Mets will win: 1. Power. The Flushing Lumber Company has three boppers who collected more homers than L.A.'s biggest stick. The Dodgers will be huffing and puffing to manufacture runs, and the Mets will ruin all the work with one big swing.

2. Shea Stadium. Between early April and their clincher, only twice did the Mets lose consecutive games at home. The home-field edge (Games 1, 2, 5) is big for them.

3. Preparation. The non-race -- the Mets had a double-digit lead by mid-June -- gave Willie Randolph a chance to plan out everything just the way he wanted. A lot of banged-up guys got to rest up.

Achilles' heel: Has any team ever entered a postseason in direr psychological shape? Regaining the edge isn't part of the new on-demand world. Since the 1998 Yankees became the last team to turn a double-digit division win into a World Series title, 15 runaways have flopped; eight of them didn't even make it out of the Division Series.

And speaking of Achilles' heels -- if Cliff Floyd's takes him back out of the lineup, it will weaken the Mets' biggest advantage, power from the left side.

Key showdowns:

1. Carlos Beltran vs. his reputation. His 2004 postseason is a tough benchmark, and if he feels the need to live up to it, he could spend the series in a funk. He spent all season winning over New York, and it would be unfair for him to feel like he has to start all over again.

2. Billy Wagner vs. Olmedo Saenz. The confrontation is a given, and the Dodgers' prime pinch-hitter rakes lefties at a .386 rate, including five homers in only 57 at-bats. Wagner's postseason resume is poor: His Astros lost all four Division Series, winning a total of only two games, and he personally has a 7.71 ERA in five appearances.

Darkhorse: Endy Chavez. He lost his spot in right to Shawn Green but, with the condition of Floyd's heel again in question, he might have to step into left field and pick up a big slack. Chavez has pulled his weight all season, batting .300 with good extra-base power, and adds the ingredient of speed.

Prediction: Mets in four games.

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