The Baseball Notebook

March 23, 2010 11:00 AM

New York Mets Preview

After a series of near-misses, the Mets’ window of opportunity appears to have slammed shut. In 2006, they had the best team in the National League. But a series of injuries to the pitching staff reduced them to rubble by the postseason. They still got to Game 7 of the NLCS, but came up short against the Cardinals. In 2007-08, they were in commanding position in September, but coughed it up down the stretch. Last year the roof fell in. Injuries ruined the club from the outset and Willie Randolph was fired early on. As they look around at their division, not only have the Phillies turned into a powerhouse, but Atlanta and Florida are capable of contending too. Can New York keep pace?

It’s ironic that Johan Santana is traded here from the Twins, yet it turns out his chances of getting to the World Series would’ve been better in Minneapolis. He’s still anchoring the rotation in Queens and still good, although not the consensus best pitcher in baseball anymore. John Maine and Oliver Perez were both hurt much of last year, and Perez was ineffective when he did pitch. Both need revivals in 2010. Hope for fresh blood in the rotation comes from Fernando Nieves, who posted a 2.95 ERA in very limited work last year.

In the bullpen, Francisco Rodriguez is similar to Santana, in that he’s still good, but seems to be off the pace of where he was prior to coming to the Big Apple. He had 35 saves and a 3.71 ERA, but didn’t seem to be the same “K-Rod” force he was with the Angels. The relief corps in front of him is in pretty good shape, with Kiki Calero and Pedro Feliciano leading up the crew.

An offensive resurgence absolutely must be triggered by David Wright. The All-Star third baseman saw his power completely disappear last year. After two straight years of 30+ home runs, he hit 10 a season ago. He still gets on base, he still fields his position, he’s still a very solid ballplayer—but if the Mets are to win big, he needs to be more than that and that means hitting for power. To help Wright, the Mets signed Jason Bay from Boston to play left field. A source of speculation has been whether Bay can match his Fenway numbers, but it should be noted that he didn’t become a star in Boston—he became one in Pittsburgh, so there is every reason to think he will continue to thrive.

Luis Castillo plays a good second base and is the top on-base man in the Opening Day lineup. His .387 OBP of a year ago was a career-high, but he’s still been good here throughout his career. However the careful reader will note that I said he’s only the best in the Opening Day lineup. Jose Reyes will not be in the group, due to a thyroid problem, and his health and return are yet another prerequisite to Met success. As is the return of Carlos Beltran, who is expected back in late April.

Much has been made of the Mets’ injury problems and it’s very real. Beltran and Reyes alone constitute a health problem no other team has to deal with at this stage of spring training. But even when healthy, they still need more starting pitching if they want to compete with the Phils.

Up Next: Los Angeles Dodgers tomorrow
Final NL East Picks & Preview: March 29

Over at The College Basketball Notebook, an overview of the South Regional went up yesterday and the West will be looked at today.

A Member Of