Saturday, October 13, 2012

Beltran And Pagan Take Center Stage In The NLCS

Earlier today, the one and only Metstradamus wrote a piece on the last two centerfielders who played regularly for the Mets before 2012.  Those players were Carlos Beltran and Angel Pagan.  Neither player helped the Mets reach the World Series.  But now they will both be trying to help their respective teams reach the Fall Classic.

So how do I feel about this bit of news, especially considering that I was a big fan of both players and continued to follow their daily exploits on their current teams?  I'm happy for them, but all I can think about is how they're being successful, while the Mets' current outfield situation is one big, giant clusterfudge.

Carlos Beltran and Angel Pagan as Mets, when there was a lot more stability in the team's outfield.

Here's a quick trivia question for you.  Since the Mets moved to Citi Field in 2009, which Met outfielder has collected the most RBIs in a single season?  Was it Carlos Beltran?  No, he was hurt most of the time and never played more than 98 games in a season for the Mets since the team left Shea Stadium.  Was it Jeff Francoeur?  Negative, as he played his way out of Citi Field during the 2010 season and never even reached 100 career RBIs as a Met.  How about Jason Bay?  How about "no"?

Believe it or not, the answer to the trivia question is Angel Pagan.  In 2010, Pagan drove in 69 runs for the Mets, a number that has not been reached by any other Met outfielder over the past four seasons.  The second-highest total belongs to ... you guessed it ... Carlos Beltran, who drove in 66 runs in 2011, playing in his first season as a rightfielder and his last year with the Mets.

With Angel Pagan traded to San Francisco and Carlos Beltran signing a two-year contract with St. Louis, it was a mishmash of mismatched Mets rotating in the outfield for Terry Collins in 2012.  Seven different players started at least one game in left field, with no one player starting more than 54 games at the position.  Seven players also started in right, with Lucas Duda leading the way despite starting only 77 games there.  Center field was the most stable position for the Mets, with "only" five players taking a turn as the team's starting centerfielder.

How much of a hodgepodge was the Mets' outfield situation in 2012?  Only Andres Torres started more than half of the team's games in the same position, trotting out to center field to start a game 101 times.  No other Met started more than 77 games (Duda) in the same outfield position.

While the Mets were struggling to find the right players to throw into their outfield cocktail, Carlos Beltran and Angel Pagan were sipping up the good life in St. Louis and San Francisco, respectively, as both former Met outfielders played in over 150 games for their respective teams.

Carlos Beltran has been all smiles in St. Louis, leading the Cardinals to the 2012 NLCS.

Beltran enjoyed his finest season since 2008, clubbing 32 homers while driving in 97 runs.  He even started to run again, stealing 13 bases for the Cardinals.  In the postseason, Beltran has been on fire, batting .444 (8-for-18) with five extra-base hits (three doubles, two homers).  In the five-game NLDS versus Washington, Beltran reached base 13 times for a .542 on-base percentage.  He also had a Ruthian 1.486 OPS.

Similarly, Pagan was outstanding for the Giants in 2012, setting career highs in hits (174), doubles (38), triples (15 - most by any MLB player) and runs scored (95).  Pagan wasn't as dominant in his division series as Beltran was, but that doesn't mean he didn't contribute to the Giants' NLDS victory.  In five games, Pagan reached base five times and drove in four runs out of the leadoff spot.  His home run to lead off Game 4 set the tone for San Francisco's series-tying win and his diving catch to end the eighth inning of Game 5 was critical in preserving the lead and the eventual series victory for the Giants.

Like Carlos Beltran, Angel Pagan is just one series victory away from playing for the top prize in baseball.

Now Beltran and Pagan will be squaring off in the National League Championship Series to determine which former Met centerfielder will be playing in the World Series for the first time.  Meanwhile, Andres Torres (101 starts in CF), Lucas Duda (77 starts in RF, 23 starts in LF), Jason Bay (54 starts in LF), Kirk Nieuwenhuis (43 starts in CF, 20 starts in LF, 6 starts in RF), Scott Hairston (38 starts in RF, 37 starts in LF, 11 starts in CF), Mike Baxter (33 starts in RF, 10 starts in LF, 1 start in CF) and Jordany Valdespin (15 starts in LF, 6 starts in CF, 5 starts in RF) will be watching Beltran and Pagan play for the National League pennant.

Mets fans knew that Carlos Beltran's days were numbered in New York.  And if Zack Wheeler turns out to be the ace pitcher he's projected to be, then Beltran's mid-season trade to San Francisco in 2011 will be considered one of the best in team history.  Pagan also was certain to go, as he was considered to be an aloof player who constantly made errors in judgment on the field and on the bases.  But before the Mets said goodbye to both players, couldn't they have figured out who was going to replace them?

Had the Mets formulated a good plan for their replacements in center and right, we wouldn't be having this conversation right now.  But they didn't.  And so now instead of watching the future of the team in the outfield, we're left to watch the team's past still playing in the present, with a chance to play in the World Series on the line.

Carlos Beltran and Angel Pagan combined to play in 1,232 games as members of the Mets.  But now, they'll play four to seven games against each other to determine if they can lead their new teams to a place they never reached as Mets.  They'll both be taking center stage long after the Mets exited stage right.  And who knows what they'll give us for an encore.

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