If there really is a derby underway between Steve Trachsel and John Maine for the fourth starter's role in the playoffs, let's just say Dave Williams is well out in front.
Trachsel was his really old self four nights ago, inept and unlucky. Maine was his moderately old self versus L.A., the kid called up earlier this year who veered to the spectacularly unimpressive before straightening himself out post-break. Maine's entitled to a tepid outing, though having it against whom he had it when he had it wasn't encouraging.
True that John on Friday, like Steve on Monday, got zero help from his fielders and hitters. But Trachsel's tuneup/audition against the Braves was at least uncharacteristic…since when does he walk seven in fewer than five innings? Maine, on the other hand, for all the swinging and missing he induces, is frequently victimized by the gopher. When he gives up earned runs, they have been earned with a big stick. He was almost in Trachsel 2001 territory with two homers in the fifth to Furcal (Schuerholz's revenge) and Garciaparra. Three were hit out of the park, but J.D. Drew's ball was reeled back in by fearless Carlos Beltran. By then Hong-Chih Kuo was untouchable and untouched. All of these are people we may see again in a few weeks.
I don't mean to be unnecessarily harsh toward Maine, who's been an unremittingly pleasant surprise to a point where it's not really surprising when he goes out and wins. But that tendency to give up home runs scares me. As things stand now, we would play the Padres in the first round and if Maine started Game Four in Petco, there is a disturbingly short porch where things could go wrong. To look ahead — a luxury we can indulge — if part of the NLCS takes place in Citizens Bank Park and we face the Howards…yeesh.
Trachsel's name popping up in the probables has never been an invitation to sit back and relax; he only lulls you to sleep between pitches. Goodness knows he can be touched up. There should be a “But…” coming here. I don't have a good one. Trachsel pitches and the Mets usually win. Maine pitches and the Mets usually win. So what's the difference? I want to fall back on experience, but that sounds cheap. It may mean Trachsel knows more about pitching, or it may mean he's been maddeningly inconsistent for ages and hasn't learned nearly enough to be counted upon.
I've been waiting all season for our Bob Walk or Marty Bystrom to emerge, two pitchers brought up in-season long ago (with the Phillies in '80) to reshape a rotation on the fly and hurl it toward the World Series. I thought it would be Pelfrey. I hoped it would be Maine. Maybe it's Williams, if not Perez. Rosters were designed to be rejiggered and everybody will be eligible.
Who's to say it's not going to be all of them plus Trachsel determining our fate? Pedro's going to come back in search of his fourth life this season. We're all taking it on faith that he will be out there on October 3 or 4 getting this thing started. He represents a great case for faith but sooner or later you gotta wonder. Glavine? Had his best start in ages Thursday. Is that the precedent of record or do we look at Tom from June to August and question the long-term efficacy of baby aspirin. El Duque's never been more than a crapshoot, albeit one undertaken with dice weighted in the house's favor.
Even if everybody is back and healthy and ready to go in slots one, two and three, what can we expect? Five innings? Six innings? If we go to our stellar relief corps in the first game, how many arms will be taxed for how many pitches? Who will be available for the second game? Care to figure out Game Three? Obviously the fifth starter will become a long man. Can he, whoever he is, adjust? If it's Maine and he gives up one or two homers in one inning, it will be a lot more impactful than the one or two homers he gives up in six or seven. Trachsel…in the bullpen?
The good news is none of these guys — none of them — are incapable of effectiveness. They've all been good more often than bad this year. I'd start tomorrow with who we've got, with or without Pedro…though I'd way prefer to start with Pedro. All of this dithering is worst-casing it.
Worst-case scenarios don't usually materialize. But once in a while, they do.