It’s that time of year again. Pitchers and catchers have reported to Spring Training and position players start reporting for workouts this week. Fortunately for them the weather is in the high 60’s and up while we freeze here in New York waiting for the 2009 baseball season to start. The Mets this year will be playing games in their new home Citi Field. With a new ballpark comes a new chapter in the history of the New York Mets. The slate is clean to start building a new history in our new beautiful ballpark. The demons of the 2007 and 2008 are not present in Citi Field and that is what we need going into the 2009 season.
With the way the past 2 seasons have ended there are many reasons for Met fans to be less than optimistic coming into the 2009 season. The lineup is exactly the same as it was last season. The same goes for the starting rotation minus Pedro Martinez. The Mets didn’t sign Manny Ramirez, Bobby Abreu, Adam Dunn or Orlando Hudson. There are reasons however to be optimistic this season. The bullpen has new additions such as Sean Green, J.J. Putz and closer Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez. Met fans were in agreement that the bullpen needed to be overhauled after blowing 29 saves in 2008 and being the reason the Mets failed to make the playoffs again. Scott Schoeneweis and Aaron Heilman are thankfully no longer with the club. With all that said and done why are Met fans still so pessimistic for the 2009 season?
The lineup is the same and we know that down the stretch the lineup was not very clutch. David Wright has been criticized to no end the last several months for “choking” down the stretch even though Wright hit .302 with 33 HR’s and driving in 124 RBI’s . We all know Luis Castillo would end a rally with a double play or a strikeout with men in scoring position. Brian Schneider is not an offensive threat. Ryan Church is a wild card in the lineup this season as we don’t really know what to expect with him. Last season he was having an MVP type season before suffering a concussion in Atlanta. Church’s return left a lot to be desired behind the plate. Fernando Tatis was a streaky hitter but did come up in clutch situations. Tatis struck out 59 times in 273 appearances at the plate before getting injured. Daniel Murphy was a pleasant surprise. He exhibited patience and excellent plate discipline that is beyond his years. He is another wildcard entering this season. Scouts have had time now to properly scout him and the book is out on him. Pitchers will be making adjustments going up against him and therefore Daniel must adjust as well.
This off-season there were many good hitters on the free agent market such as Manny Ramirez, Adam Dunn, Bobby Abreu, and Orlando Hudson. Met fans have been foaming at the mouth for a least one of the above free agents to join the Mets in Citi Field this upcoming season. Having said that the lineup was not the problem in 2008. The Mets scored 799 runs which was second to the Chicago Cubs in runs scored and tied with World Series champions the Philadelphia Phillies in the same category.
I think the bullpen was part of the problem for the lineup not coming up in clutch situations. Not only were the Mets facing an opposing team’s pitching staff but they were trying to outscore their own bullpen. For the Mets to win they had to score 8 or 9 runs in every game so that when the bullpen came in they would win a game by 2 or 3 runs on a daily basis. Take for example a game played on September 14, 2008 at Shea Stadium against the Braves. David Wright had a solo home run in the bottom of the 1st inning as well as a 2 run home run in the bottom of the 3rd inning. The Mets went into the 9th inning with a 4-2 lead and the bullpen quickly blew the game by allowing 5 runs to score in 1 inning. That is just one example of the Mets scoring runs only to have the bullpen blow all their hard work. David Wright hits 2 home runs in one game, drives in 3 RBI’s and the team still could not win the game, a game that if we did win would have left us tied with the Brewers in the Wild Card race.
Our front 4 in the rotation are Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey, John Maine and Oliver Perez. Joining the front 4 could be Tim Redding, Freddy Garcia, Livan Hernandez or Jonathan Niese. The rotation last season lost John Maine who was hurt most of the season which caused him to under perform and Pedro Martinez would make a start then have to miss at least one start due to not feeling loose enough. Pedro had a tough year professionally and personally. He got injured his first start into the season and his father had a long illness and unfortunately passed away. Pedro is gone this season and I wish him well unless he pitches against the Mets. The rotation was missing two starters but was still able to keep the Mets in the game until the bullpen came into pitch.
Johan Santana would have had at least 7 more wins last season if it was not for the bullpen. He would have been in the running for a Cy Young Award if the bullpen did not come in and constantly cost him game after game after game. Pelfrey had a great year, showing the Mets that he is a workhorse and that he is not another prospect that was all talk. Pelfrey pitched well over 200 innings last season. Jerry Manuel had made it known that they wanted to rest Pelfrey down the stretch but unfortunately could not due to the lack of depth in the bullpen. John Maine did not have his best season last year. He got injured and had to have season ending surgery on his shoulder. Maine did not walk a lot of guys but he goes to 3-2 counts against too many hitters and is usually out of the game by the 5th inning while exceeding over a 100 pitches by that time consistently. Maine has said that his shoulder was bothering him for most of last season but is now throwing and is 100% better. Oliver Perez is as inconsistent as they come. He will shut down the Yankees but can’t make it out of the 3rd inning against the Pirates. He just signed a nice big contract and all eyes will be on him this season to justify the contract. He is 27 and has great stuff. Ollie has a hard time staying focused throughout the game and that needs to stop this season. Left handed pitchers take more time to mature so hopefully he is at the point where he can stay focused whether it’s against the Phillies or the Pirates.
The bullpen last season blew 29 saves. Think about that number. You cut that number in half with a capable bullpen and it comes out to 14.5 games. The Mets would have won 104 games last season. Not only would the Mets win the National League East but that would’ve been the best record not only in the National League but throughout Major League Baseball. The Mets came into last season not knowing who was the 8th inning guy and having a setup guy by committee. By the end of last season Billy Wagner went down with season ending surgery which would cost him to miss all of the 2009 season as well. Jerry had no choice but to have a closer by committee. This proved disastrous for the 2008 season as there was no pitcher in the pen that could come out and close the game. Omar Minaya saw this and went out and got the best closer on the market in K-Rod. He traded Heilman away to Seattle for Sean Green and their closer, now our 8th inning setup guy J.J. Putz. Now the bullpen has 2 potential closers in the bullpen. If K-Rod has to save 3 games in a row and the Mets need a closer to go out for that 4th game in a row Jerry Manuel has the option of resting K-Rod that day and sending out Putz to save the game. How about if the Mets do have a good lead in the division and they want to rest K-Rod for the p
layoffs? Putz can closeout the remaining games giving him some work and giving K-Rod some much needed rest. If K-Rod does have a pitchers slump Putz can be called to save a few games while K-Rod gets his head on straight. This year the Mets have options for the bullpen. Something that was not available last year for them. In turn this will help the starters in the rotation as well as the guys in the lineup to better perform.
Many fans including myself throughout most of the off-season have been criticizing Omar and the Wilpons for not going after the flashy free agents the way the Yankees did with C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira. Last season the Mets didn’t make the playoffs because of the bullpen, not the rotation and not the lineup. It was not David Wright’s fault that the Mets did not make it to the playoffs. Omar went out and improved the bullpen which was what he needed to do. Will K-Rod and the improved bullpen blow save opportunities this season? Most likely yes. Will they blow 29 games this season? No! I don’t even think they will blow 14.5 games this season. The bullpen has the best 1-2 punch in the majors. Sean Green is a workhorse and will be a great addition to the pen. I believe that Sanchez could become the 7th inning guy and be part of the bridge to get to K-Rod. Barring injury I think the Mets have a great chance on winning the N.L. East. Are the Mets the team to beat? I have to agree with K-Rod and say the Mets are the team to beat. What do you readers think?