These 2009 Phillies bear an astounding resemblance to the 2008 Mets.
And no, seeing Pedro Martinez pitch Sunday night isn't what prompted this feeling.
In fact, Pedro's performance, before a national television audience, was more along the lines of what Mets fans everywhere had hoped for -- but unfortunately didn't come to pass -- in his injury-plagued final season in New York.
But the elements of Pedro's start -- pushing a starter beyond his normal capacity out of abject terror over handing the game to the bullpen -- should have been entirely familiar to any Mets fan who would watch the 2008 squad get a lead early, then hang on for dear life.
This 2009 Phillies team is constructed in almost exactly the same way.
Keep in mind, while all the attention was on Pedro's 130 pitches, the Phillies also pushed Kyle Kendrick well beyond his period of effectiveness in the early game of Sunday's doubleheader. Nevertheless, we got to see just how much disarray reigns in the Philadelphia bullpen.
Brad Lidge can't get anyone out. Ryan Madson, whether via statistical fluke or tempermental limit, can't get the job done in the ninth inning. The Phillies are turning to retreads (Chan Ho Park), young journeymen (Tyler Walker) and the recently infirm (Brett Myers) in an effort to find someone -- anyone -- to get people out.
This doesn't sound like shades of Brian Stokes, Luis Ayala, Al Reyes and Carlos Muniz?
Like the 2008 Mets, the 2009 Phillies are second in the National League in runs scored. Like the 2008 Mets, who received dominant performances from Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes and David Wright, the Philadelphia offense has a quartet of star players in Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez. (Shane Victorino is better than anyone else the Mets had, and Jimmy Rollins' second half resurgence is more or less balanced out by Ibanez's post-All Star regression).
The starting rotation has a star in Cliff Lee (though he's fallen on hard times in his past few outings), who is a step below the 2008 Johan Santana. The pitching staffs of both teams were a bit lacking in a strong starter after their ace, but they had enough for a short series: For the 2008 Mets, Mike Pelfrey and Oliver Perez were both pitching well, with John Maine lost to injury, while in 2009, the Phillies have Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton pitching well, with J.A. Happ currently lost to injury.
In fact, the critical difference between the two teams may be Pedro Martinez 2008 (5.61 ERA) and Pedro Martinez 2009 (2.87 ERA).
But this Philadelphia bullpen is a disaster. Take Brad Lidge, his ten blown saves, his 7.18 ERA -- a number that makes Guillermo Mota look like Mariano Rivera. Ryan Madson is eerily like Aaron Heilman -- a strong strikeout rate, past success, and a strange inability to get that key final out in an inning. (It also hurts Madson that he can't get the first out -- with nobody out, hitters are at .330/.366/.436 against Madson this year).
Reinforcements are injured. J.C. Romero is out, Scott Eyre is hurting or wild and Chad Durbin is well off his 2008 pace.
And while the 2008 Mets could best be counted on to blow leads in the sixth, seventh or eighth innings, it is the ninth that truly bedevils the Phillies. Phils pitchers are allowing a .788 OPS in the ninth inning. In shorthand, opponents of the Phillies in the ninth inning have numbers roughly equivalent to those of Shane Victorino's career.
Now, the 2009 Phillies are blessed with a number of advantages the 2008 Mets didn't have. Along with a rejuvenated Martinez, it appears Happ is on track to start Friday, and John Maine, as Ted Berg recently documented, never quite came back in 2008.
The Phillies also have the injuries to the 2009 Mets to thank. When the 2008 Mets faltered, a quality alternative team, the 2008 Phillies, were able to take advantage of the Mets' flaws. The 2009 Phillies are just 7-7 in September but now hold a commanding 6 1/2 game lead over the Florida Marlins, who couldn't take a series from the Washington Nationals this past weekend.
And, as if Mets fans didn't have enough to torment them, imagining what a healthy Mets roster in 2009 might have done against this flawed Philadelphia team will haunt them all winter.
Still, it was eerie to see this offensively challenged 2009 Mets team manage to score with ease against the Philadelphia bullpen this weekend. While the David Wright blow is the one likely to be remembered, Mets hitters like Jeremy Reed, Josh Thole, Angel Pagan, Omir Santos, even Anderson Hernandez had a hand in the late-inning rallies.
It was 2008 all over again, when no Major Leaguer was too unskilled to play a part in undermining the Mets' season.
But while many are quick to dismiss the Phillies as October contenders, I am not one of them, for the same reasons I thought the Mets had more than a puncher's chance if they managed to make it to October 2008. Good starting pitching (and no need for a fifth starter), a solid offensive core, tremendous defense at skill positions like shortstop, third base and center field will all be to Philadelphia's advantage.
So, should Pedro Martinez win a World Series in Philadelphia, for Mets fans there would be more sentiment attached than just watching the diminutive righty win. The 2009 Phillies' postseason could be, in many ways, what 2008 might have been for the Mets.
Better yet, if the Philadelphia postseason hopes crash against the rocks of a brutal ninth inning, Mets fans can, at least, breathe a sigh of relief that it didn't happen to them.