A Good Problem to Have


Mets Rotation May Be Overcrowded Come Playoff Time It isn't a problem when you have too much of a good thing. Just like the old saying, don't cry poverty while you're holding a loaf of ...

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Mets Rotation May Be Overcrowded Come Playoff Time

It isn't a problem when you have too much of a good thing. Just like the old saying, don't cry poverty while you're holding a loaf of bread under each arm, the Mets shouldn't complain that they may have too many starting pitchers. With the return of Pedro Martinez, the Mets have five good arms. But come October when the playoffs roll around, most managers decide on their three best and stick the other two in the bullpen as long men.

First things first. The Mets haven't clinched a thing, but with a seven game lead in the National League East with 17 to go, they should be able to hold off the Phillies and Braves. As of Thursday, their magic number was down to 11 heading into the three-game weekend set versus Philadelphia at Shea Stadium.

Tom Glavine has been the ace of the staff in Martinez's absence and should be given the ball in Game 1. Both John Maine and Oliver Perez proved their worth last fall and share the team lead with 14 victories apiece. Orlando Hernandez has pitched his best when the money is on the table in stints with the Yankees and White Sox. But he is capable of relieving in big spots as he did in Chicago, helping them to the 2005 World Series championship.

Martinez may be limited in his pitch count, which would then make a starter coming out of the pen to start the fifth or sixth inning a necessity. How effective would the young Maine and Perez be in relief remains to be seen.

'El Duque' has been injury prone, and missed the entire 2006 post-season after being named the team's Game 1 starter in the NLDS against Los Angeles. He strained his calf running in the outfield before the game and did not return, giving Maine the opportunity. In his last start on Tuesday night, Hernandez allowed eight runs in a 13-5 loss to Atlanta, going just three innings. He has been fighting a sore foot of late but is scheduled to not miss any time.

"I'm assuming it's just regular soreness," Mets manager Willie Randolph said to reporters. "Right now, he's still on his regular turn."

Perez looked sharp in his last outing against the Braves, who he has dominated this season with a 4-1 record and a 3.03 ERA. When Perez was asked by reporters about his status when the postseason arrives, he responded, "When we're in the playoffs, I'll think about the playoffs."

In the event that Randolph decides to go with four starters, which is a strong possibility, only one will have to be bumped. Counting Glavine, Hernandez and Martinez, to round out the arms evenly would give the southpaw Perez the nod. Also taking into consideration that Maine has not exactly been stellar in the second half of the season with a 4-5 mark.

The Mets need their starters to hold the fort because their bullpen is not as strong as it was a year ago. Closer Billy Wagner has looked incredible at times and shaky at others. Guillermo Mota, who was on fire in 2006, has struggled all summer since returning from his 50-game suspension at the beginning of the season due to steroids. Pedro Feliciano started off very well, but has not been as effective lately. Aaron Heilman has had troubles throughout and is still a victim of the long ball at untimely moments. There is a cause for concern in this area for good reason.

Whoever is the man (or men) to join that cast of relievers will be counted on to come in during the middle of the game and eat up innings. They will need to be rubber-armed and able to bounce back a day or so later after pitching three innings. Putting a Maine or Perez out there may be a big surprise advantage, one that may be the dark horse move on the way to a World Series championship.