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Meet the New Met…Same as the Old Met

Tuesday, the New York Mets boasted their new signing for the starting rotation, the guy who has been here the past year-and-a-half, Oliver Perez. That’s sure to make most of the Mets fans gag a little. Ollie has put the Mets fans on an emotional tilt-a-whirl in his Flushing days. It’s basically a flip of the coin if you’re going to see the shutdown strikeout machine that his teammates feed off of or the guy that can’t find the plate and loses his confidence with every pitch. In 70 Mets starts, Perez is 26-20 with a 4.72 ERA, with some of those better performances coming against big rival teams such as the New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, and Atlanta Braves, but can’t seem to figure out teams like the Cincinnati Reds, San Francisco Giants, or Washington Nationals. You love him one day and hate him five days later. He will need to continue that success against the Phillies, especially now that they have a deep lefty lineup featuring Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Raul Ibanez, and Shane Victorino, all of whom haven proven to be tough outs for any pitcher. The Mets will need all the southpaws they can find to beat the Phils.
But with Perez back the Mets rotation is complete. Perez will likely end up in the third or fourth spot, with ace Johan Santana, John Maine and Mike Pelfrey rounding out the top four. Veteran righties Freddy Garcia and Tim Redding will battle young lefty Jon Neise for the final spot, though each will probably get a significant amount of starts over the 162 game season. But just how good is this rotation? We all saw how good Santana can be, and while he might the pinnacles he did in Minnesota (his strikeouts were down and his hits were up), he is still one of the best pitchers in the game and is unbeatable in the second half. When Maine is healthy he’s as effective as anyone in the majors, but he was worn down at the end of last year, and the Mets will need him to be consistent in the dog days of summer into September if they want to have a shot. But probably the most important piece is Pelfrey, who shocked Mets fans last year with his 13-11 performance, becoming the most reliable Mets starter for a three month stretch, going 11-2 in 17 starts from June through August. While Pelfrey went 0-3 in September, he still turned in quality starts. The 2009 season will show who the real Mike Pelfrey is. If he can throw like he did starting in June, the Mets rotation sets up to be one of the best in baseball. There will be the usual headaches along the way, but those will occur for every team in the majors over a six month season. Fortunately, none of the Mets starters appear to be pitching in the World Baseball Classic in March, meaning they should be well rested in September, when the Mets will need them the most.
General Manager Omar Minaya said during the Perez press conference that there are no more major signings likely to occur between now and the start of the season. But of course, there are still several high-caliber players available, even ones not named Manny Ramirez. A Bobby Abreu, Orlando Hudson, Ben Sheets, or Adam Dunn could look good in Orange and Blue, especially if you are worried Daniel Murphy was a flash in the pan. Mets fans will gripe for more (as we always do) but the Mets still look like one of the top teams in the National League, improving their weakest link from 2008 (no matter what the bullpen has to be better right?) with the competition not having improved much around the league. The Phillies will be tough, but the Braves are fielding the same lineup as last year and a rotation without Tim Hudson, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, or even Mike Hampton (but they have Derek Lowe for only $60 million), and the Milwaukee Brewers lost CC Sabathia and Sheets, their two best pitchers. The Chicago Cubs will still be tough, as will the St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros, and the only tough team in the NL West will be whichever one signs Manny, Los Angeles Dodgers or San Francisco Giants. While the majority of Mets fans would rather wallow in self-pity over the pratfalls of the past few years, there is cause for optimism in Flushing. After all, Ya Gotta Believe!

Jason Levy

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