- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 15, 2009

POINT/COUNTERPOINT

Each week, Nationals beat writers Mark Zuckerman and Ben Goessling debate an issue in major league baseball. This week’s question: Who has been more disappointing, the Cubs or the Mets?

BEN GOESSLING: There’s no question this season has been a disaster for both of these big-market contenders - Chicago won the NL Central in a landslide last year, and the Mets retooled after missing the playoffs. For me, though, the Mets’ failure to make the playoffs has been more disappointing. Yes, they’ve had injuries, and yes, they’ve shown a degree of dysfunction we’ve come to expect. But for me, the question is, “Where do you go now?” They seem to have blocked themselves into such a dead end with bad decisions and bad luck that it’s harder to see them rebounding than the Cubs. I don’t think Chicago needs to blow everything up to rebound, while with the Mets, that seems like the best option.

MARK ZUCKERMAN: I tend to agree with you on the Mets, who are a complete disaster and may need years to recover from this mess. But for the sake of this debate, here’s an argument for the Cubs: They were supposed to run away with the NL Central this season. There wasn’t another division in baseball that looked as clear-cut as that one back in March. They had all the pieces in place to cruise back to the playoffs. The Mets, on the other hand, still had to contend with the defending World Series champs in the NL East. So while their collapse has been painful, you could argue that they might not have even won the division had everything gone right this season.

BG: There’s no question the Cubs had the most talent in the division at the start of the year. Even though I didn’t like some of the changes in their lineup, I still felt like they would have more than anybody else. The issues with the Mets, to me, are much deeper. It seems like there’s an element of dysfunction in the front office that might not be solved without a thorough house-cleaning. The Cubs will have questions to solve, but the Mets might go into 2010 with a lame-duck manager and GM. That’s why this year was such a letdown. It exposed so many of their larger problems.

MZ: I think you underestimate the degree to which the Cubs may need to blow things up and start over. Milton Bradley needs to go. Alfonso Soriano probably needs to go, too, except he has five years to go on a $136 million contract that may go down as one of the worst ever awarded. Both of their potential closers (Kevin Gregg and Carlos Marmol) were disasters this season. There are rumblings Lou Piniella may not return as manager. Oh, and they’re about to undergo an ownership change. That’s a pretty disastrous season to me.

BG: Yes, but at least it didn’t include any front office types tearing off their shirt and challenging players to a fight.

MLB POWER POLL

Team Record Comment

1. YANKEES 92-52 AL East title, home-field advantage in playoffs all but guaranteed.

2. DODGERS 85-59 Run differential (+149) is only three behind Yankees and best in NL by 54.

3. ANGELS 86-56 Upcoming three-game series with Red Sox a probable first-round playoff preview.

4. CARDINALS 84-60 Swept by Braves over the weekend but could clinch division by early next week.

5. RED SOX 84-58 Won five straight; setting a pace that’s going to be hard for Rangers to match.

6. PHILLIES 82-60 Closer situation reached a head against Nationals; three weeks to figure it out.

7. ROCKIES 82-62 Pivotal three-game series with Giants started Monday night in San Francisco.

8. GIANTS 77-66 Any more than one loss against the Rockies would kill their playoff chances.

9. RANGERS 80-62 They’ve had a surprising, stellar season, but ways into the playoffs are closing up.

10. TIGERS 76-66 Miguel Cabrera (.335 average, .964 OPS, 29 homers) could make a few MVP ballots.

* Records and stats through Sunday

AWARD WATCH

Looking at the front-runners for baseball’s season awards. This week: NL MVP

Albert Pujols, Cardinals

There hasn’t been another legitimate choice all season, and there doesn’t look to be one now, not with the Cardinals closing in on the playoffs and Pujols in the top two in the National League in every Triple Crown category. The only drama left in this race is whether Pujols will win the award unanimously.

Others to watch: Hanley Ramirez, Marlins; Ryan Howard, Phillies; Prince Fielder, Brewers.

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