Yesterday afternoon, Mark Hale of the New York Post, shared some of his insights with me over the phone about the New York Mets. Mark is the beat writer for the Mets, and his articles are required reading for all Mets fans. He is certainly one of my favorite sports writers. He also has a great Mets Blog.
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Joe – What an amazing win last night for the Mets, when you start the season like this, do you think it has any lasting value that they can take into the next series in Atlanta?
Mark – It’s gotta help at least a little bit. I mean they just played as extraordinary a series as there is by outscoring the World Champs 20-2. And now they head into Atlanta which is a series that I am very curious about. Personally, I think that the Braves are the biggest threat in the division and not the Phillies. I think this is going to be a good series and I am very curious to see how they match up. It certainly looks like the Braves are about to sweep the series which sets up an interesting situation because all of a sudden you have two 3-0 teams matching up against each other. The fact that they are in the same division makes it even more interesting. I’m obviously very high on the Braves, and I think it’s going to be a good match-up.
Now, do I think there is going to be any carryover for the Mets from the St. Louis series? I think the Mets are probably feeling good right now, I mean they would have to be after beating the Cardinals 20-2. But I think it’s one of those things, and I’m sure that I’m not saying anything to revelatory here, but you know that if they go out tomorrow night and end up 3-1, whatever momentum they had gets washed away. It’s something that Willie kind of talks about a lot, and I actually think he’s right about that.
Joe – I’m kind of fearful of Atlanta myself. They made some moves to strengthen their bullpen this off season, and some of their younger players like Brian McCann and Jeff Francouer have really come into their own as well. The Phillies are getting all the ink as far as most improved team, but I look at the Braves and I gotta tell you, they scare me a little more than the Phillies do. What do you think?
Mark -I just like the way they’re constructed. They still have a very good lineup, their bullpen is obviously improved, which is something that John Schuerholz referred to as their fatal flaw last year, and their rotation is still pretty good even without Mike Hampton.
It’s also just one of those things because I’m not really sold on the Phillies, I mean yeah their lineup has three terrific hitters in Rollins, Utley and Howard, but I think the rest of their lineup is very unimpressive. That’s just the way I feel, I’m just not sold on them. Now I’m not saying that their not going to be good, I’m just saying that the Braves are going to be better and be a much stronger team and that if I’m the Mets, I’d be much more worried about the Braves than I would be of the Phillies.
Joe – Last week in one of your articles, you called Mike Pelfrey the Mets’ most important pitcher and the key to their future. What can you tell us about Pelfrey this spring, does he have what it takes to one day become the ace of the staff?
Mark – I think he does. He really impressed me this spring. Going into camp he obviously was one of the candidates to make the rotation, but I really thought that he was a real long shot to make the rotation. I truly believed that the Mets were going to go with Chan Ho Park, and that it was very unlikely that either Pelfrey or Humber would start the season with the team. I just didn’t think there was really any kind of reason for that to happen. You know, they could have always sent them down to Triple A and then recall them on April 20th or May 1st if they needed to. It’s one of those things where the only way they make the team is if they go out and pitch like 20 innings and give up like 2 runs and really look dominant, and that’s exactly what ended up happening. I mean we all heard Omar Minaya say just last week something along the lines of "he forced us to keep him".
Pelfrey has really impressed me, he’s pitched real well and gets a ton of ground balls. I think there was one game against Baltimore where 12 of the 13 balls put in play were on the ground and the one that wasn’t was just a pop-up, and it was just one of those games that made you take notice. He was an elite pitcher this spring and as far as his long term projection goes, it’s hard to say. We have to see how he pitches this season. We are still talking about a guy who has under a hundred minor league innings under his belt and I don’t know if he’s ready just yet, but a lot of people seem to think he’s ready.
If Pelfrey can go out and pitch decent this year and shows that he continues to get better as the season goes along, then I think that going into 2008, he probably slots into the top of the rotation. I’m not saying he will be number one because obviously you still have Pedro and Glavine could still come back, but he can still become one of your high end guys.
Joe – Although its still early, Moises Alou has looked very solid at the plate and surprisingly so, he has been very adept in the field as well. What did you think of his acquisition this off-season and will his addition fill the void left by Cliff Floyd when he was healthy?
Mark – I think Alou will be a bit of an upgrade offensively over Cliff Floyd. Tom Glavine has talked about how the lineup is much more balanced this year and less vulnerable against lefties, and that Alou is one of those guys that will help you there. I think he’s going to be interesting to watch, he was one of the guys that I mentioned in my Season Preview as being the Mets’ most important player. By that I don’t mean that he is the best player or the most indispensable player, but that he has some key variables that are going to be important. He needs to show that he can play in New York, he needs to show that he can stay healthy, he has to hit well in the middle of the lineup, provide protection, and prove that he can be effective at age 40. Those are all very important variables.
Obviously the jury is still out on him, but he’s also a very low risk contract for the Mets. I mean when you sign a guy like Alou for just one year, even if he is age 40, I still think he will be very productive for them over the course of at least one season. He’s gotten off to a nice start this season and he even has made a couple of nice plays in left field. I’d have to check it out but I think he hit like .330 against left-handers last year, or something like that, and thats what the Mets need right now.
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I didn’t get a chance to transcribe the entire interview from voice to text, so I will post the rest of our interview later on this afternoon. I promise you’ll find the second part to be just as insightful as this first part was.