If you’re as geographically fortunate as me and spend 5-6 months annually battling numb fingertips, sub-zero temperatures and a deprivation of sports involving grass, this is an adrenaline inducing time of year.
Signs of spring are bountiful, undeniably so; It’s time to put your hockey sticks and snowboards away and yank out that decrepit, oil stained ball bag so deeply imbedded with red clay that moving it slightly sends a poof of dust spores in the air like an old catcher’s mitt on the business end of a Joel Zumaya fastball. For Mets players and fans alike, another year of high salaries, high expectations and championship goals are underlying a spring-training full of rejuvenated optimism. The blue and orange will have a tough road ahead however as Philadelphia shored up their already stellar roster with aggressive offseason moves and expect just as much out of their 2010 club.
When I was a kid one team set the standard for national league lore and consistent championship caliber baseball, the Atlanta Braves. Chipper Jones put up over 300 RBIs in his first 3 full seasons whilst influencing sock fashion for little leaguers everywhere, and a plethora of future hall of fame pitching; it seemed as though any championship aspiration meant en route through A-town. Their titles didn’t match their regular season dominance, but it’s reminiscent in watching the Phillies consistent play as of late. Now I’m not volunteering to wash Cole Hamels’ jerseys, but I am an objectivist and a realist and this team has taken a step to another level again. Unlike some upstart teams they made sure to lock up core guys re-signing spark plug Victorino, making Rollins one rich bugger and Utley even richer. For what’s lost in defensive abilities Polanco over Feliz at third adds just another RBI heavy bat to an already deep line-up.
Off-season’s biggest move would be Roy ‘Doc’ Halladay landing in the City of Brotherly Love, and let me tell you as a frequent Blue Jay Watcher, he is the best the game has to offer. His career began the same year Peyton Manning’s did and like Manning, Halladay can shut a game down and make seemingly great hitters look elementary. He’s spent 12 seasons largely facing down the likes of the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, and Tampa, all the while posting a career 3.43 ERA. It came as no surprise both Boston and NY entered his sweepstakes. In ‘03 he posted 22 wins and 20 in ‘08. The scariest part about Halladay is his stuff’s getting nastier as he gets older. For better or worse, the future hall of famer only wanted to go one place, a contender. His pick-up makes the Phils a strong candidate to return to the series. Look for Halladay to take Hamels under his tutelage the way he did with A.J Burnett in Toronto, turning him from abrasive and angst-filled, with a lack of control, into someone calm and collected with a lack of control, but a 2009 world series ring to-boot. So as a Mets believer am I being a hypochondriac looking back on stats driving me further into worry and dismay; not at all.
I feel a healthy Mets squad matches the Phils in all facets. Jose Reyes, David Wright and Carlos Beltran alike are arguably best at their position when healthy and playing to their potential. Alex Cora, Gary Matthews and the re-signing of Angel Pagan will allow the necessary depth to avoid overstressing the premiere guys. A healthy Johan Santana is poised to return to 2006 Cy Young form where he beat out ‘Doc’ and others for the decoration. K-Rod is one of the most electric, exciting shut-down closers in the game with a hard curve that would make Ricky Vaughn stew with envy. Philadelphia expectedly gave up a lot for Halladay, so what does Mets ownership do? Get Barajas, a seasoned vet catcher, who’s got a ring, can go deep at the plate, knows the Philadelphia well and spent 2009 catching for Roy Halladay during his ‘disgruntled’ years; all for a fraction of the price. That is an awesome move. Jason Bay is the definition of consistency in left, and in the age of free agency, the closest thing to a sure thing there can be. Don’t get me wrong, the Braves and Marlins are certainly contenders (especially with the Eric Hinske legend in effect), but if the Mets hit on all cylinders, this will be a two horse race.
Mike Pelfrey is going to have to lower his ERA in ‘10. It’s difficult to make it to October when one of your top 3 rotation guys posts an ERA over 5.00 and his league leading 6 balks in ’09 is senseless. Players know the momentum shift an inopportune balk can bring. Ideally he and Oliver Perez will pleasantly surprise fans with strong seasons. Perez claims his disappointing ‘09 was due to soreness stating,
“They operated on me and here I am. Thankfully, I’m healthy and ready.”
Media pandering or genuine sentiment? What do you think? I give Perez the benefit of the doubt, I think the Mets rotation will pleasantly surprise and give Santana the support he needs to turn that Halladay spotlight his way as he’ll try to return to 2006 form, and the Mets, the pitching support needed to manifest a special season 2010.
The NL East is hard. Arguably as hard or harder than then the AL East; in which, teams push each other to be better. It is no surprise that since 1990 Al East teams have made 12 appearances in World Series. Minus one year for lockout and that’s needless to say amazing.
The Mets need to embrace the challenge and leap the mental hurdle that is the recent success in Philadelphia. Jerry Manuel has all the tools in his toolbox, but will have to be very involved in managing his team. He will have to prudently use Jose Reyes whether it is in leadoff, 3-hole, or when to rest him. The Mets in my opinion are playoff bound if they follow a line of prudent decision making, stay healthy and get strong efforts from their rotation down the stretch. Often championship seasons come down to mental toughness and under veteran leadership the Mets should be able to conquer that. It feels as though a special season is in the making in New York. The players seem to know it, it’s time for fans to show trust and follow suit.