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Mets Season Preview - Here We Go Again

by Jim McNierney

Hope springs eternal in this magical time known as spring. It’s during this period that every baseball fan reaches down within their own psyche and dregs up from that eternal wellspring some fresh dreams with new wings. In every dream, there is that classic vision of the entire squad of their favorite major league baseball team running onto the field and coming together at the pitcher’s mound in their home ball park to celebrate that long sought after World Series championship.

No fans are without this dream. No major league baseball team’s fans are more apprehensive about this new season than fans of the New York Mets.

Met fans know all too well how that dream can be crushed like so many paper beer cups and scattered throughout the Shea Stadium parking lot. They were one game away from the World Series in 2006 and in the past two seasons, they have seen the Amazin’s play with championship acumen through the first 5 months of the season only to collapse in spectacular fashion as the season winds to a close. The dream, so close that Met fans could almost reach out and touch it, was wrested away from their grasp on the very last day of the season…three years in a row.

For longtime New York National League baseball fans, the recent Mets teams have conjured up visions and emotions likened from four generations ago of the beloved Brooklyn Dodger teams of the 1950s. Those Dodger teams seemed to dominate the National League with a collection of all-star, future hall of fame caliber players. The beloved (“Dem Bums’) Dodger teams dominated the National league in that era but (with one notable and long remembered exception) never seemed able to achieve the ultimate goal of a championship.

It’s ironic that after the Dodgers moved away from the New York area, to their present home in Southern California, the Mets were created to fill that void. Fast forward 46 years and it seems, truly, that the Mets’ fate is to become the replacement source of frustration for New York National League baseball fans.

Here’s how the current squad seems to stack up:

Weaknesses

Left handed relief - This past off-season, the Mets have attempted to address some very prominent shortcomings that were highlighted in the latest collapse at the end of the ’08 season. It was during those final three weeks, the Mets’ bullpen seemed incapable of holding any size lead. General Manager Omar Manaya had taken the fans subsequent outcry as his marching orders to remedy that situation in this off season. He went out and acquired the two most coveted of the available arms in the free agent market, J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez. The hope, obviously, is that these additions (and some additions through subtraction) will address the bullpen weakness exposed within the collapse of the last two Septembers. Unfortunately, the sad fact remains that the pitching staff, in its present state, is woefully absent left handed arms in the bullpen. Met fans can only hope that this doesn’t become their undoing. Either their right-handed middle relief proves uncharacteristically effective versus left handed hitting or Pedro Feliciano is going to have to make 90 appearances and his arm will fall off in mid August.

Catching - The catching chores are likely going to be shared between Brian Schneider and Ramon Castro. Both are quite capable defensively, (Castro has the better bat) and both, historically, are quite susceptible to injury.

Second base – The Mets placed a lot of trust and money in the talents of former all-star, Luis Castillo. Castillo is coming off an injury prone year where his offensive stats were less than stellar.

Outfield – While possessing a gem in Carlos Beltran in center, the other two outfield positions are somewhat of a question mark. The Mets have stated that they are going to be starting young Daniel Murphy in left and potentially a platoon in right. Murphy has been quite impressive this spring but he remains relatively untested at the Major League level. The platoon in right is likely going to be a combination of three or four players. Principally they will be going with a combination of Fernando Tatis and Ryan Church with a sprinkling of Jeremy Reed, Marlon Anderson (and potentially either Nick Evans or Angel Pagan). It’s going to be very important for this club’s success to prove that this collection of outfielders can prove effective offensively.

Strengths:

Starting Pitching – The Mets starting rotation has historically been one of their strengths and this year’s vintage is no exception. Anchored by the presence of perhaps the best pitcher in baseball, Johan Santana as their ace, the rest of the starting corps includes Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez, John Maine and either Livan Hernandez or Tim Redding. Pelfrey has proven to be a very tough customer. This young pitcher has weathered a trial by fire over the last couple of seasons and proven to be quite effective last year, particularly in the later half of the season. Oliver Perez has the potential to be an all-star provided he could become a bit more consistent. John Maine, at times, has been unhittable. He has proven himself to be quite durable eating up a lot of innings (191 in 2007). He too is coming off some injuries but has had a good spring thus far.

Infield – With the possible exception of 2nd base, the rest of the Mets infield is incredibly strong. Carlos Delgado’s (1st base) second half of 2008 ranks as strong as anybody’s in either league. David Wright (3rd base) and Jose Reyes (SS) have become all-stars at their positions and leaders on this club at a young age.

Mets fans collectively are hoping that the move to a brand new, state of the art stadium will exorcise some of the ghosts of past season collapses. Then again, it’s the same parking lot…

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