Mets know their work is cut out for them
Signing of Lee makes rival Phils that much more formidable
NEW YORK -- A hotel attendant strode into Jason Bay's room on Tuesday morning, delivering both breakfast and bad news. The Phillies, the attendant told Bay, had just signed Cliff Lee.
"I put the TV on right away," Bay said some hours later, at the Mets' annual holiday party in Flushing. "More than anything, it's just digesting the fact that it happened."
It happened late Monday night and, barring any snags, will soon be official. Now a heavy favorite in the improving National League East, the Phillies have added one of the game's best pitchers to a rotation that already featured reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay, former 20-game winner Roy Oswalt and former World Series MVP Cole Hamels.
"They've got our attention," new manager Terry Collins said. He paused. "Not like they didn't have it before."
With that, Collins launched into a discussion of preparation, knowing his team is scheduled to play the Phillies three times on their season-opening six-game road trip in April. Collins has already taken a peek at the pitching matchup and knows that, presumably, the Mets will face two of Philadelphia's four aces in that series, though they may enjoy the small luxury of bypassing Lee.
For the Phillies, such is the benefit of employing four of the game's best starting pitchers.
"I shouldn't be surprised," Collins said, noting he plans to address the topic of the Phillies on the first day of Spring Training. "They obviously are going to be a formidable opponent now."
It used to be that Halladay and Hamels represented the only major pitching problems for the Mets, who could always find a relatively soft matchup in any given series with the Phillies. But Philadelphia traded for Oswalt during last summer's stretch run and now has signed Lee, arguably the game's best pitcher over the past two seasons.
Any and all soft matchups have disappeared. Even if the Phillies trade Joe Blanton to clear payroll, they still will boast one of the best front fours in Major League history.
On paper, at least.
"They've got four legitimate aces on that staff," third baseman David Wright said. "It's pick your poison with those guys."
Collins, for his part, took the popular route, comparing the Phillies to the mid-'90s Braves teams that featured John Smoltz, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, though those clubs never boasted a dominant fourth starter, as the Phillies have the potential to do. General manager Sandy Alderson admitted that the Phillies have as strong a rotation as any he ever assembled during his time in Oakland.
"On paper, it's pretty formidable," Alderson said, noting that the presence of Lee shouldn't have much effect on his offseason plans.
For now, though, the Mets can lean on the fact that Philadelphia's greatest strength still rests on paper, in the world of two dimensions. Plenty can happen between now and Spring Training, between Spring Training and April and between April and October. Injuries can happen. Poor performance can happen. Surprises can happen.
So, while the Phillies almost certainly will head into next season looking and feeling like National League favorites, they still must actually play the games. They still must win.
And the Mets plan to concede nothing.
"That's why you play the games," Wright said. "They look like a tremendous team on paper. But you play the games for a reason. It comes down to execution."
To win, the Mets will need to execute better far more often than they did in 2010, when they hit .248 and scored 3.6 runs per game against a Philadelphia team that did not have Lee in its pitching arsenal. With another of the game's best pitchers now in the mix, the Mets will need to be better.
"It's going to be fun, man," outfielder Carlos Beltran said, rolling his eyes in exaggerated fashion. "Good luck."