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Billy Wagner's days as a Met seem numbered. Photo by: Newsday Staff

The week in baseball: The Mets to become spoilers

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Billy Wagner's days as a Met seem numbered. Photo by: Newsday Staff

This weekend probably would have seemed great on paper if you were looking at it in the beginning of the season. It’s crunch time and the New York Yankees play the Boston Red Sox while the New York Mets square off against the Philadelphia Phillies. It’s playoff race gold while the summer winds down into September, right? While the Red Sox are fighting for a spot as the Wild Card this year, the Mets are fighting for a little self-respect as they begin to play the part of the National League spoilers.

There’s little doubt left that the Mets are going to miss the playoffs. They are more than ten games behind Philadelphia in the divisional race and more than ten behind in the wildcard race (which is being led by the Colorado Rockies with the Atlanta Braves and Florida Marlins less than five games behind each). It’s not a surprise with all the injuries and clubhouse turmoil (what’s going on with Gary Sheffield’s contract extension anyway).

While Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, and Carlos Delgado have been out for an exasperating long amount of time, it seemed inevitable that one of the other big stars, David Wright, would be out as well (that seems to be the Mets luck anyway). Wouldn’t you know it? David Wright was beaned in the head by a 94 mile an hour fastball by Matt Cain of the wildcard hopeful San Francisco Giants and left the game with a concussion. There’s no guarantee that the All-Star will play again this season (although there is hope) as he sits on the 15-day DL.

So, the Mets are without their starting first baseman, shortstop, third baseman, and centerfielder. They’re also playing without their version of the Sandman, former closer Billy Wagner. Wagner had been sitting on the disabled list since last season, but made his first appearance of 2009 against the Braves and struck out two in one inning. He looked sharp, strong, and quite promising as a relief pitcher, but he’ll be gone by the end of the season.

The Red Sox have claimed Wagner off waivers and will likely take him off the Mets’ hands. I guess it’s unnecessary to have three closers on a single team’s bullpen (Wagner, J.J. Putz, and Francisco Rodriguez) so though Wagner has been one of the best closers in the majors during his three year stint with the Mets, they won’t need him moving forward. On the other hand, the Mets still need a lot (especially now knowing owner Fred Wilpon will “absolutely” bring General Manager Omar Minaya back next season).

The first thing they need is some guts. They may be just a step above terrible (see the Washington Nationals), but they have the ability to screw up some hopeful teams’ plans this season. They recently played the Giants, where they took two of the four games in the series (on that note, the Giants were two games behind the Rockies in the wild-card race as of Saturday).

Next, the Mets played the playoff hopeful Braves who shared two strange games in a row with the Mets in their series win. In the first game of the series the Mets were down 4-0 in the fourth inning until they broke through with a franchise record-breaking ten hits, and nine runs in the inning, which won the game for them. In the second game of the series the Braves took over the second inning with eight runs in the 18-hit, 15-2 win. The Mets may have had a heck of an inning, but it was a poorly played series. They couldn’t spoil the Braves’ season, but they have some opportunities in the next month to stir up the playoff race.

The National League will probably be represented in the playoffs by the Phillies in the East, the St. Louis Cardinals in the Central Division, and Los Angeles Dodgers in the West. In order, the five teams with a solid shot at the last spot in the playoffs are the Rockies, the Giants, the Marlins, the Braves, and the Chicago Cubs. The Mets will finish this series against the already playoff bound Philadelphia Phillies to play the Marlins in three more series, the Cubs in two, the Rockies, the Phillies one last time, the Braves in two more series and the Nationals twice.

All of these teams except the Nationals have a strong chance of making the playoffs, and the Mets are capable of ruining any one of their seasons. This isn’t exactly the end-goal of a season you’re looking for as a Mets fan, but at least it’s a reason to watch the games. And hey, with roughly 30 games left in the season there is a very slim chance that the Mets make it in. Just don’t hold your breath.

On the American league side of things it’s the Red Sox and their fans whose collective breath will be held through the rest of August and September. The Red Sox were swept by the Yankees a week and a half ago, and were pounded by the Yanks in the first game of this latest series in their 20-11 loss. They rebounded in the next game with a 14-1 beat down of A.J. Burnett, but still sit more than five games behind the league leading Yankees.

The Red Sox are ahead in the wild-card race as of now and look to fend off the surprising Texas Rangers and last year’s American League champs in the Tampa Bay Rays. It’s about a three game split between these three contenders as we roll into September, so it’s no surprise that the Red Sox are still picking up players like Wagner down the stretch. At least in the short term Red Sox fans can breath a slight sigh of relief as their knuckleballer Tim Wakefield returns to lineup in place of Brad Penny (who started that 20-11 disappointment of a game) this week.

So, as it is, the Red Sox are still in the picture, but are on the outside looking in on any sort of playoff assurance. The Yankees are sitting as the king of the hill in the American League East. They’ll likely enter the postseason atop the AL East along with the Detroit Tigers representing the AL Central (though don’t count out the Chicago White Sox), and the Los Angeles Angels representing the AL West. The Yankees shouldn’t have any issue maintaining their lead down the stretch with only Brett Gardner, Xavier Nady, and Chien-Ming Wang out indefinitely.

Through the rest of August and throughout September the Yankees are looking at a schedule they should dominate. They’ll play as a potential spoiler to the Rangers and White Sox in the next week and a half before cruising through a soft week against the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays (the Yanks will have two series each versus these teams in September). They’ll have four games against the Angels, a series versus the Mariners, one last shot at their rival Red Sox, and an easy finish versus the terribly Kansas City Royals. Barring any injuries or mental collapses on the part of the starting pitchers, the season is in the Yankees’ hands.

I know it must be hard for a Mets fan to keep up with baseball as the NFL rears its distracting head, but there is still a month left before the playoffs and there’s no better time of year to keep an eye on the game (hell, the absurdity of Mets’ season in general is entertaining enough). Though most of the division races are locked up, the wildcard race is running hot in both divisions and the Mets and Yanks are going to play their part in deciding which team will play in October. The Yanks fans can sit comfortably as their team pushes to win over a hundred game this season. Mets fans can relish in their role as spoilers even though their season was spoiled long ago.

Wild Card Prediction:

American League- The Boston Red Sox

National League- The Colorado Rockies

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