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Perception or reality? The gritty Mets, bad Mariano Rivera and unreliable A.J. Burnett

Sorry for the tardiness this morning.

Yes, it's time to play "Perception or reality?" when we take a look at certain items of discussion in the yakosphere (trademark Neil Best) and determine whether these items are actually occurring or whether they've been manufactured to appear to be something they aren't.

Now please welcome your host, Wink Martindale.

1. "These Mets, no matter how they finish up the season, have won over the hearts of their fans because of their never-say-die attitude." 

Well, the "won over the fans' hearts" seems to have a strong element of truth to it. The fans like this team, all the more so after the Mets beat the Padres in their final at-bat last night, for the second straight at-bat.

But what about this team's supposed grittiness? Does it stand out? Or does it just feel like it?

The 2011 Mets are now 3-44 when they trail entering the eighth inning. That's an .064 winning percentage. When they trail entering the seventh inning, they're 6-42, a .125 winning percentage.

Now let's look at the 2007 Mets, a club reviled for being chokers. When they trailed entering the eighth, they were 7-61, a .103 winning percentage. When they trailed entering the seventh, they were 9-59, a .132 winning percentage. 

"But that was a more talented team," you could rightfully argue. Of course they won more games in those scenarios. They won more games in all scenarios," their horrible September notwithstanding.

OK. So then let's look at the 2010 Mets, a team that finished 79-83, worse than the '11 Mets' pace.

When they trailed entering the eighth, they were 2-66, an .029 winning percentage. When they trailed entering the seventh, they were 5-59, an .078 winning percentage. 

How about when the two teams were tied entering the seventh, eighth and ninth? The '10 Mets were 10-17 (.370), 9-12 (.429) and 10-11 (.476) in those scenarios. The '11 Mets are 11-6 (.647), 9-5 (.643) and 4-7 (.364). Just for kicks, the '07 Mets were 12-4 (.750), 14-6 (.700) and 10-4 (.714).

So I get it. This team feels like it fights and scraps and bites and claws, and there's at least some evidence to support that. But also, just like everything in life, the popularity of these Mets also reflects their performance versus their expectations, which were low.

Conclusion: 58% reality, 42% perception.

2. "It's finally over for Mariano Rivera." 

The Yankees closer, after blowing a one-run lead to Boston on Sunday night, lost last night's game to the Angels when he surrendered a two-run homer to his former teammate Bobby Abreu.

Could it be finally over for Rivera? Sure, it could be. But it doesn't seem like a very good bet. Not based on two games.

Last Friday night against the Red Sox, Rivera looked pretty darn good in protecting a one-run lead, retiring David Ortiz (groundout) and Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Josh Reddick (strikeouts looking) while giving up an infield single to Carl Crawford that could've been called an error on Derek Jeter.

And for the entire season, of course, Rivera's season is still darn good. His WHIP rests under 1.000, and his strikeouts and walks ratios (per nine innings) are both improved from last year.

Conclusion: 99 perception, 1 % reality. We have to leave a little room for error, right?

3. "A.J. Burnett is pitching so poorly, he deserves to leave the Yankees' starting rotation." 

Anthony Rieber argues that it's reality, that it's time for the Yankees to remove Burnett from their rotation after another underwhelming start Tuesday night against the Angels. I agree, although here's one rub:

If it benefits the rest of the starting rotation to go with six pitchers - to make sure Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia and even CC Sabathia get sufficient rest - then I'd keep throwing Burnett out there. To see if he can string together a good run. And knowing the Yankees have considerable room for error in the AL wild-card race.

But yeah, in a vacuum, looking at Burnett's recent performance, you can't make a sound argument that he deserves to stay. As for his contract? The Yankees demoted Mike Mussina during the 2007 season even though he had another year coming at eight figures. So there's precedent. You could make Burnett the long reliever and tell him to stay ready.

And maybe this winter, if the Yankees pay enough of the remaining $33 million, they could find a trade partner for Burnett. If not, they can go through the motions of Larry Rothschild working with Burnett again and see what he looks like in spring training.

Conclusion: 80 percent reality, 20 percent perception.

--I'll check in tonight from the Stadium.

Tags: A.J. Burnett , Mariano Rivera , Larry Rothschild , Bartolo Colon , Freddy Garcia , CC Sabathia

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