© 2006 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

10/01/06 9:00 PM ET

Dodgers-Mets: Position analysis

Russell Martin came on so strong that six weeks after his arrival, the Dodgers felt comfortable enough to deal their crown prince at the position, Dioner Navarro.

Paul Lo Duca is reputed as a winner, but he's never won; the Dodgers made the playoffs after he left, the Marlins before he arrived. Here's the chance for a grinder who handles a bat well and handles a pitching staff even better.


Los Angeles' Nomar Garciaparra has not been getting many hits -- his .354 All-Star break average had dived into the .290s by late September -- but he's gotten big ones. He wants to stay healthy for a "remember me?" return to the big stage.

Carlos Delgado has been preparing for this for 1,710 games, more than any other active player without a postseason bow. His reputation is built on 162-game consistency; the snapshot of a short series is a crapshoot.

Los Angeles' Jeff Kent has felt every single day of his 38 years all season, and the drain of his nagging injuries is evident in his diminished numbers. But this is his time; no coincidence that he's in the playoffs with his fourth different team.

Jose Valentin is the guy who finally ran Kaz Matsui out of Flushing. Had he done little else, he would be revered, but Mets fans have also appreciated the hard nose and the clutch hits.

After roaming Atlanta's infield for 2 1/2 years, Wilson Betemit dropped anchor at the Dodgers' hot corner, which had been cool since Bill Mueller went down with a bum knee. He's miscast as an everyday third baseman -- the versatility is what made him popular at the trade deadline.

The Golden Boy. David Wright is the unchallenged symbol of the Mets' rise back into New York relevance. Infield-corner power, vastly improved defense, humility and personality -- all that's missing on the rack is some October spice.

Rafael Furcal's chance to say, "All those Division Series losses in Atlanta? Not my bad." The aggressive hitter and wide-ranging fielder sets a tone atop the Dodgers lineup. But he's in for a Dominican donnybrook, because the center of the infield indeed will be at the center of everyone's attention.

His first full season had been impressive. His across-the-board improvement in Year 2 has been stunning. As Jose Reyes has settled into his role as Mets sparkplug, he has unleashed all of his tools. He won't get big-stage fright, but can't match the other guy's comfort level.

Andre Ethier wore down a little at the end of the season, but he couldn't possibly maintain his break-in fire: he took a .352 average into the All-Star break. Good jumps and a fearless attitude when playing the wall make him a defensive asset.

Cliff Floyd has chased the light as long as has Delgado: 14 seasons, 1,415 games -- two lousy postseason hitless at-bats, in the 1997 World Series. The Mets hold their breath over how long his troublesome left lower leg holds up.

Two years after his occasional presence in center infuriated George Steinbrenner, Kenny Lofton is Los Angeles' main man there. But he is also an ideal top-of-the-order igniter, a high on-base percentage guy who is a rarity with consistently more walks than strikeouts.

Carlos Beltran made a nice bounce-back from his booed 2005 Mets debut, but he still hasn't justified the big contract. This week, he can. The 2004 postseason (.435, eight homers and 14 RBIs in 12 games) is his yard stick -- and what people expect to see.

J.D. Drew hasn't been able to totally steer clear of those nagging injuries, but he has been present enough to approach career highs in games and at-bats. Best of all, everything clicked down the stretch and he finished strong. And that makes him dangerous, because he's a groove player.

Shawn Green of course was the Dodgers right fielder the last time they appeared in the postseason (2004), and on Aug. 22 became Mets general manager Omar Minaya's last piece. As age has slowed his bat, Green has forsaken some of his power by more often looking to slap balls the other way.

Eric Gagne, gone and forgotten. Once general manager Ned Colletti made peace with that, he tackled an in-season overhaul. Jonathan Broxton, tough lefty Joe Beimel, long man Aaron Sele -- none of them were with the club in April. And Takashi Saito was installed as the closer and responded by setting a club rookie record for saves. Big asterisk, though: Saito is 36. The shuffle has had some predictable bugs: Dodgers have lost 10 times when taking leads into the seventh.

Having Billy Wagner at the end of their bullpen made Willie Randolph and his pitching coach, Rick Peterson, bullet-proof. They assigned roles, compensated for injuries, and could do no wrong. A day after valuable Duaner Sanchez went out with injuries suffered in a taxi accident, Minaya gave them Roberto Hernandez and, later, turned to Guillermo Mota -- whom they turned into a weapon after he'd been cake (6.21 ERA) in Cleveland. With Chad Bradford, Pedro Feliciano and Aaron Heilman also in front of Wagner, the Mets were 71-4 with a sixth-inning lead through their clinching.

Of all of Colletti's moves -- and he's been frantic since getting the job nine months ago -- the best may have been acquiring Marlon Anderson from the Nats hours before the Aug. 31 deadline for postseason eligibility. He can help both at second and the outfield and has gotten some huge hits. Ex-Devil Rays Julio Lugo and Toby Hall equip the bench with veterans, Matt Kemp is another bright rookie (though slowed by injuries) and, in a pinch, Olmedo Saenz (14 hits, including three homers, and 14 RBIs) is a handful.

Starting with Julio Franco, Mr. Methuselah, this is a supporting cast that perfectly meshes with the high-profile headliners. Ricky Ledee, picked up in early August after being waived by the Dodgers, would love to make the party, but that depends on whom Randolph prefers replacing Floyd on defense -- Ledee or Michael Tucker. Chris Woodward and Endy Chavez, a couple of warriors who lost playing time to Valentin and Green, hope to contribute.

For Grady Little, seeing Pedro Martinez on the mound would have offered a golden shot at closure. But being back in the postseason three years after his awkward dismissal by Boston has already earned Little immense satisfaction. His country charm and expert handling of personalities was perfect for a team that had to regroup in midseason.

All those failed managerial interviews were worth it for Randolph, who got the job, and did the job, in the only city that matters to him. His quiet, patient leadership is ideal in a place where everyone else tends to get uptight. Randolph inspires confidence in his players, who feed off his faith in them.

A Dodgers team that has won one postseason game since 1988 is fueled by the October experiences of Kent, Furcal, Nomar and Lofton on the field, and Derek Lowe and Brad Penny on the mound. They have lived in stress for months; one more week shouldn't bother them.

The arrival of an event that has been inevitable for months comes with intense pressure, not to mention the letdown of Martinez's loss. Add the ingredients of New York and the parallel presence of the Yankees, and it can be suffocating. Good start, the Mets will never look back. Otherwise ... they haven't had to be in comeback mode all year.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.