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Dining in the Desert

The ballpark in Arizona, call it BankOne Ballpark, Chase Field, or banking services company + synonym for stadium (CitiField isn't finished; I can still make that joke), has been very kind to the Mets of late: the Flushing squad is 8-0 there since 2005.

The thin air inside the retractable-roof stadium has created Mets lore during the past years, as Mike Jacobs posted a .467/.579/1.133 line there in 4 games in 2005, turning the youngster into a legend while he jacked three homers in four games.

David Wright is a .469/.528/.875 hitter there.

Carlos Beltran has a fairly nuts line there, too: .368/.432/.921.

Perhaps this trip to Chase Field can provide the Mets with a slumpbuster: last year all four games weren't even close, as the Metsies ran the D-Backs over in short order: 7-1, 10-6, 5-0, 15-2. It was part of the "greatest road trip ever," where the Mets took a tour of National League teams on their way down, en route to posting a 9-1 record. Even Alay Soler and El Duque threw shutouts.

Here's something to look at: the Mets wreaked similar havoc in the desert in 2005. The scores there were 4-1, 14-1, 18-4, and 3-1. Victor Zambrano was nasty, Pedro had that odd start, where he had been charged up on some sort of electronic machine to counteract an injury, and carried a no-hitter through four or five despite having absolutely no control over where his pitches were going.

This Mets team is in a different circumstance, as are the Diamondbacks. The Mets are narrowly behind Atlanta in the all-important NL East race, and the Diamondbacks, despite having to cope with garish new uniforms, are only a game and a half behind the once-hot Dodgers.

This is a totally rebuilt Arizona team: gone are the relics of that 2001 World Series team (save for the pitcher formerly known as Randy Johnson) and in their stead are the young products of a top-notch farm system. Arizona's unloaded their veterans, like Shawn Green and Luis Gonzalez.

Arizona has been led on offense by second baseman Orlando Hudson, and his uncharacteristic .348/.412/.500 line. Eric Byrnes and Chad Tracy have done pretty well, and the Diamondbacks have a young nucleus that will undoubtedly contribute at some point during the season.

One could look at shortstop Stephen Drew, centerfielder Chris Young, outfielder Carlos Quentin, catcher Miguel Montero, and utility man Alberto Callaspo as signs that this team is up-and-coming.

Their pitching isn't bad either: reigning Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb is once again the ace of the staff, and the chaff (Russ Ortiz, Claudio Vargas, Miguel Batista) that allowed the Mets to tee off in past years is gone.
Offseason acquisition Doug Davis (left, 2.25 ERA in 6 starts) has done well, as has the Mets' old friend Livan Hernandez (3.55 ERA in 6 starts). Micah Owings, who will be facing the Mets tonight (9:40 PM, SNY), pitched well in three starts before an arm injury.

Best of all, though, has been the Diamondbacks' lights-out bullpen, anchored by closer Jose Valverde (10 SV, 1.64 ERA, more than a strikeout per inning), who is supported by righties like the mercurial Juan Cruz, youngster Dustin Nippert, the out-of-nowhere Tony Pena (16.1 innings, 1.65 ERA) and southpaw Doug Slaten, who has held lefties to a .167 batting average against.

I'm not sure that these Diamondback teams will be pushovers, though any team playing in that stadium gives the Mets an opportunity to win. Let's do it. Let's see that slumpbuster.

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