10/01/06 9:00 PM ET
Dodgers-Mets: Position analysis
By Tom Singer / MLB.com
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.