Posted: Wednesday October 11, 2006 12:09PM; Updated: Wednesday October 11, 2006 3:38PM
SI.com: Going into the NLCS, what do you feel are the keys for the Mets?
Cohen: It's hard to remember a pair of teams that have gone into a seven-game playoff series with as many questions about their starting pitching that these two teams have. The Mets have Tom Glavine and a lot of question marks; the Cardinals have Chris Carpenter and a lot of question marks. Inevitably, in situations like this, people who you don't expect step forward. The question will be, who on either side will step forward?
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SI.com: Do you have any hunches about who some of the surprise contributors could be?
Cohen: You never know. You draw historical parallels. If Cliff Floyd is out, you go back to the last time the Mets played the Cardinals in the League Championship Series, when they had lost Derek Bell, who had been their starting right fielder in the opening round against the Giants. Timo Perez filled in for him and set a League Championship Series record by scoring eight runs against the Cardinals. Maybe Endy Chavez is the latter-day Timo Perez. But you never know. That's the wonderful thing about baseball. You have 25-man rosters, and often in the postseason it's the guys that you least expect who step up.
SI.com: Do you look at Glavine as a solid No. 1 guy?
Cohen: Well, he's not what he was 10 years ago, but he is a legitimate ace starter at this point in his career, and he acquitted himself quite well in the first round of the postseason. Carpenter is a legitimate, rock-solid, No. 1-type ace. But he also doesn't get to pitch Game 1, which means that regardless of what transpires, he'll only get to pitch twice in the series. Glavine -- although they are not sculpting it this way -- could pitch 1, 4 and 7 if necessary. They are talking about Oliver Perez pitching Game 4. If the Mets are down 2-1 or 3-0 when they get to Game 4, I don't think there is a chance in the world that Glavine doesn't pitch.
SI.com:David Williams gave up two runs and seven hits in 6 1/3 innings in late August. Do you think there is any chance they'd give him the Game 4 nod?
Cohen: No. I just think if you have a choice between Oliver Perez and Williams, Perez gives you so much more of an upside because of his incredible talent. Now, is he just as likely to last two innings as nine? Yeah. But he's also capable of going out there and throwing a gem because his stuff is that good.
SI.com: Do you think that the Mets will carry 11 instead of 12 pitchers in this round as opposed to the NLDS?
Cohen: That's a good question. I think part of it will depend on Floyd. If they keep Floyd on the roster but have questions about him, they might keep 11 pitchers just to be able to keep an extra position player just for insurance. You know, they kept 12 [pitchers on the roster] in the first round, which was not their plan, but because of the injury to El Duque, they figured they would be better off carrying an extra pitcher. But they never used Royce Ring in the first round, they never used Oliver Perez. It's a little different in a seven-game series. Obviously you are going to need that fourth starter at some point, or at least you need to have him there. Do you need the eighth relief pitcher? It depends on how the starters do. All that stuff is a delicate balance, but I think Floyd's availability, which as we are having this conversation hasn't been decided yet, will have something to do with it.
SI.com: How crucial is Floyd for the Mets?
Cohen: Clearly, he gives you more power from that position and more extra-base potential. But you know, Chavez started more than half the games from that position this year anyway and he did wonderfully. I think what it does when you play Chavez and you don't have Floyd available, it weakens you on the bench.
SI.com: Do you have faith that John Maine will be able to continue to pitch as impressively as he has?
Cohen: Well, he's certainly surprised everybody so far this year. You know, Maine surprises you every time he goes out there because he doesn't look like he should be able to throw as hard as he does. His fastball sneaks up on people, which is one of the reasons he's been so successful. But he's very calm, very business-like. It doesn't look like a whole lot fazes him. His concentration does tend to drift at times, but you would hope in a League Championship situation that wouldn't happen.
SI.com: The Mets seem to be the superior team in almost all facets of the game, in spite of the fact that the Cardinals have Carpenter and the best hitter on the planet in Albert Pujols. But this is Tony La Russa's 11th postseason while it's only Willie Randolph's first appearance. Do you give La Russa and the Cardinals a decided advantage when it comes to the managers?
Cohen: I think they have different styles. Because of the teams that they manage, they are going to handle the game a little differently. Randolph has far more depth in his bullpen, so he's more likely to pull a starter earlier, whereas La Russa is relying on three rookies at the end of the game, with Adam Wainwright and Tyler Johnson and Josh Kinney. So he might be a tad more reluctant to pull a struggling starter early. Randolph hasn't called a squeeze play in two years as manager and La Russa does it all the time, but he's got David Eckstein, who is a master of the squeeze play.
The Mets, top to bottom, have a lineup where Willie feels that any one of the eight is capable of making a game-breaking play, so he's less likely to put on hit-and-runs or put on a squeeze play. La Russa revels in that kind of stuff. Managers manage games according to what they have available to them. I think both of them are tremendous at motivating their teams. You know, La Russa has a whole lot more experience, but he's also lost four of the five League Championship Series he's managed since he came to the Cardinals. So who's to say that anybody has an advantage?
SI.com: Is there any juice left for Mets fans from the great New York-St. Louis rivalry in the '80s?
Cohen: No, I don't think there is a shred of it. There is only one player left from the 2000 series, and that's Jim Edmonds. They don't play each other enough, and the turnover in players is such that it doesn't really matter [to them]. You know, when you get to this point in the season, it's all about winning championships, it's not about beating any specific team. I mean, when the Mets played the Braves in the LCS in '99, it didn't have any more juice than when they played the Cardinals in 2000. It was all about winning the series, it wasn't about who your rival was. At this time of year the Mets could play the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the fans wouldn't care, they just want them to win.
SI.com: That's funny, because I was in St. Louis earlier this year and I spoke with a lot of fans who still refer to the Mets as "pond scum."
Cohen: I think that's more of a New York thing than a Mets thing. I think a lot of cities look at New York in a slightly disparaging way. We see it in Philadelphia all the time -- it's that smaller-city inferiority complex that every city has vis-ą-vis New York.
SI.com: So what's your call on this series?
Cohen: Oh, I think the Mets have been the best team in the league all year. It hasn't really mattered who they've played. I'll pick the Mets in six.
Alex Belth is the founder and co-author of Bronx Banter. His biography of Curt Flood, "Stepping Up: The Story of All-Star Curt Flood and His Fight for Baseball Players' Rights," is available on Amazon.com.