Thursday, June 17, 2010

Not That I Want To Jinx It But...

If you haven't noticed, the Mets are actually playing pretty good baseball these days. I know, I'm shocked, too, but the numbers don't lie. New York has won six straight games and jumped to a high-water mark of nine games over .500 for the season, leaving them just a half-game behind Atlanta and three ahead of the suddenly listless Phillies, whose offense seems to have come back to Earth after two outrageously productive seasons. Meanwhilst, New York, which had an offense that decided to take the day off every time its ace was on the mound, has suddenly been pounding the ball, including last night when the Amazins strung together four straight doubles in a five-run third inning of their 8-4 win over Cleveland, the first time they had turned that trick since matching the feat against the Dodgers on July 21, 1991.

Of course, while it is obviously exciting for Mets fans -- after all, the team is a Major-League best 17-5 since May 21st -- it has to be kept in at least some perspective. In this case, five straight wins, albeit on the road, against the Orioles (one of which I attended in Baltimore) and Indians, two of the worst teams in baseball, should be seen as less of an achievement than taking care of business. You can't blame the teams on your schedule, but at the same time, to be a contender you have to beat the teams you're supposed to beat. Right now, the Mets are doing just that, and with the bats and the rotation flourishing -- the starters are 16-3 with a 2.61 ERA in the last 27 games -- they are making quite a charge at contention.

The only question now is staying there, and while manager Jerry Manuel might be ludicrously putting his faith in Hisanori Takahashi and R.A. Dickey, Buster Olney is reporting that upper management isn't quite so optimistic. And thank goodness for that. After frustrating fans with their refusal to go after a potential big fish at the trading deadline, the Mets, as one of the few buyers on the market, are poised to bolster their starting rotation with some huge addition along the lines of Roy Oswalt, Ben Sheets or Cliff Lee. And all signs seem to imply that the Mets are going to get one of them.

And at that point, who knows what could happen.

It's foolish to start fitting the players for rings just yet, obviously, and this has been a notoriously streaky team for most of this year, but if the offense can keep the Mets hot into September, well, a top three of Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey and, say, Roy Oswalt, in that stadium, would be awfully nasty to go up against in a short series. Now, many sources are reporting that with concerns about the cost of his contract, Oswalt would be a less likely target than Lee or Sheets, but the Mets can handle the cost and taking all those dollars off Drayton McLane's books might mean surrendering less in the way of prospects, whereas Seattle might require John Niese's future to make the pieces fit for Lee, who is more than likely to test the free agent market this winter. Oswalt could be guaranteed to pitch at Citi through 2012.

Ben Sheets is a solid option, also, but either way, the Mets are at an exciting juncture of the season, and after last year's nightmare 70-92 campaign, you'll have to excuse us if we're getting bold enough to dream.

And here I thought the most outlandish dreams I was having these days was a deep run for the U.S. in South Africa. After Saturday's 1-1 tie against the Brits in the opening round, which I attempted to watch among the monstrous hordes at Dupont Circle this weekend, a win tomorrow against Slovenia could nearly assure the Yanks of getting through to the knockout stage.

Of course, Slovenia can't be underrated. After the Swiss turned the tournament upside down yesterday with an upset of Spain, it's clear any team can win any game, but the U.S. should be considered the favorite, and amidst signs that soccer fever just might be catching on around here, the buzz generated by a second-round berth could be pretty fun to see for football fans like myself.

It should also be noted that the with Argentina's 4-1 win this morning over South Korea, the scoring may finally be opening up in South Africa. While South Korea may be stinging from a brutal loss that could all but end its hopes of advancing to the knockout stage, at least the Taeguk Warriors can take solace in the fact that unlike some less fortuitous sabre-rattling neighbors, they can actually send their own fans to the tournament. It's not over and stranger things have happened in the World Cup, but South Korea seems unlikely to recover either in points or in goal differential. Then again, it's still early in the group stage. Who knows how it will all wind up.

As far as that other football is concerned, I've spent the last week sifting through the implications of what was nearly the destruction of the college football landscape as we know it, but instead is just a few moves that still leaves the shaky Big XII in tact with 10 teams while the Big Ten added Nebraska to give them 12.

Yep. Strange.

I don't know that I've gotten used to considering Nebraska a Big Ten team just yet, but I'm awfully curious to see if the schedules for the next three seasons that will now be thrown out put a wrinkle into my plans to see Northwestern visit BC in September of 2011. An impact on non-conference games seems unlikely, but the implementation of divisions will turn the typical Big Ten schedule unrecognizably upside down. I'm awfully curious to see how it all winds up.

Lastly, I've made note of how bizarre it is to see Giants Stadium disappearing piece by piece before, but as it stands -- or doesn't stand -- this morning, the final part of the building is ready to collapse, and the Giants and Jets have already begun practicing in their brand-spankin' new facilities, with disastrous results in some cases. Either way, while the new stadium is no doubt going to be beautiful, it will still seem eerie the first time I'm back in East Rutherford. Of course if they win, I won't really mind.

And now, back to the most exciting sport there is. Open wide, people.

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