Mets scheduled for a challenging '07
Defending NL East champs to face every other '06 playoff team
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The Mets will relive their final steps of the 2006 season on Opening Night 2007.
The schedulemaker has them in St. Louis on April 1, and there they will experience -- endure -- the raising of the National League pennant they nearly secured and the World Series championship banner they thought might fly at Shea Stadium this season. They'll be there at Busch to hear introductions of the players who denied them last October -- Scott Spiezio, So Taguchi, Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright -- and there to see the ring presentation ceremony.
A 24-carat, slap-in-the-face reminder for 25 men.
It won't go over well with the team that ruled the NL from April through mid-October, the team that exited the postseason one series too early and still feels the ache of its shortfall and in the short fall.
Ordinarily, the subsequent demands of the schedule will purge first-game, first-series or first-week memories. What the '07 Mets face after three games in four days by the Arch is extraordinary, though. They can revisit the entire 2006 postseason, because they will play every other team that was involved in it.
So this Mets team, with designs on first place, will become a first of a different nature -- the first team ever to play every other postseason team from the previous year.
Understand the distinction came to the Mets unsolicited -- and unplanned. The schedule for the '07 season was in place weeks before Pedro Martinez or Orlando Hernandez went down and J.D. Drew and Jeff Kent foolishy tried to double-team Paul Lo Duca. For that matter, the season-opening Mets-Cardinals series was in place before any postseason participant was sure of the final standings for '06.
So it was more than unsolicited or unplanned. It was unexpected as well. And now, to hear an occasional whisper in the Mets' clubhouse here, it is a tad unfair, too. These defending division champions are keeping any whining to themselves for the most part, but some of the Mets have noticed the circumstances. Others have had them brought to their attention. None has said, "Hot dog! We have the toughest schedule."
For decades, players accepted the schedule as part of the routine -- 22 games (11 at home) against each league opponent. Then, after the first expansion, it was 18 against each team. Later, after the advent of division play, teams played 18 games against each intradivision opponent and 12 against each team from the other division.
Now, though, with Interleague Play and divisions of unequal membership, schedule symmetry has gone the way of the scheduled doubleheader. And now the Mets get to see -- or have to see -- all the teams that competed in October for the jewelry the Cardinals will wear in April.
An up-close look at the club as we approach Opening Day
"The schedule's the schedule," Lo Duca said. "You play it. You don't worry about it."
"It is what it is," Tom Glavine said.
Most of the veterans said they were unaffected by it, but they understood the hurdle the schedule wrinkle represents. And one player who was unaware that the schedule was in place in August asked, "Who'd we tick off? ... Why us?"
The Phillies, for instance, play all four teams from the National League postseason and the Tigers in Interleague games, but not the Twins, A's or Yankees. The Braves play the Twins and Tigers but not the Yankees or the A's. But the Mets are the only National League team to play six games against the Yankees.
Willie Randolph takes the schedule quite matter-of-factly.
"It's 162 for everyone," Randolph said. "But I like the challenge. We want to be the best, we'll have to play the rest. I'd rather play them, because that brings out the best in my team. It's why I'm happy we play good teams right away when the season starts [the Cardinals, Braves and Phillies]. I prefer it that way. Bring 'em on."
However blasé anyone is about the schedule overall, no one can look at the Mets' June and not blanch. From June 5-July 1 they play 25 games in a 27-day sequence, and all of them are against teams that figure to be competitive -- six against the Phillies, four against the Cardinals, and three each against the Yankees, Tigers, Twins, A's and Dodgers.
June also includes a three-time-zone week: The Mets play the Tigers in Detroit on June 8-10, the Dodgers in Los Angeles from June 11-13 and the Yankees in the Bronx on June 15-17.
"We'll just be preparing in June for what we have to do in October," general manager Omar Minaya said. "It's like what they do in the NFL: base your schedule on your record the year before. It means we had a good team last year. We'll have a good team this year, too. We'll face good opponents. We'll accept the challenge."
And Glavine even found a silver lining to the more challenging schedule. "So that means at the end of the season, they'll look at our RPI and put us in the tournament. Right?"
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.