Spring Postcard: Mets need more than health to hang in race
The Mets need stars like Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes to stay healthy
David Wright's home run total fell to 10 in 2009, but scouts feel he'll rebound
New York needs to find a reliable No. 2 pitcher behind ace Johan Santana
This spring, SI.com's baseball writers will be filing postcards from all 30 camps. To read all the postcards, click here.
1. Prevention & Recovery
Those are the words freshly painted above the doorway to the Mets clubhouse in Port St. Lucie, Fla., surrounded by the outline of a blue shield. The slogan is not catchy, but it is practical, a response to a season in which the Mets felt like voodoo dolls, pins sticking out of every body part. All teams suffer injuries, but the Mets suffered something more like a plague, with as many as 13 players on the disabled list at one time. They were not just losing scrubs, either. On September 1 the Mets had $88 million of their payroll sitting in the trainer's room. The main culprit was bad luck, but the medical staff has come under almost as much scrutiny as general manager Omar Minaya and manager Jerry Manuel. The Mets need a full season from Jose Reyes and Johan Santana, as well as some quick healing from Carlos Beltran and his surgically repaired right knee, if they too are going to recover.
2. Hitting a new note
The emphasis in spring training last year was on shooting the ball the other way, in part to create better all-around hitters, and in part to take advantage of the massive gap in right-center at Citi Field. The philosophy worked in one sense, as the Mets led the National League with a .270 batting average, but they might have taken the concept too far because they finished with a major-league low 95 home runs. The team with the next fewest homers, the Giants, managed 122. The Mets believe they are better for the experience, having shown that they can punch outside pitches to the opposite field, but this spring Manuel and batting coach Howard Johnson are encouraging their charges to get out in front of the ball and turn on it more. If last year was any indication, the Mets will do exactly as they are told.
3. $130 million sleeper
Can there be such a thing? At this time a year ago the Mets were a popular World Series pick. Now they are dismissed as a punching bag. The reason is that they lost 90 games last season, but it's hard to take anything away from that, given how much of the team was missing. The Mets don't actually look so different than the group that everybody was touting last spring. Reyes is back at the top of the order and Santana is back at the top of the rotation. Francisco Rodriguez is at the back of the bullpen and newly signed Jason Bay should be able to replace Carlos Delgado in the middle of the order. The truth is that the Mets are neither World Series contenders nor 90-game losers. They will finish somewhere in between, but if they can maintain a modicum of health, they should at least be able to hang around the wild-card race.
A starting pitcher to complement Johan Santana
While the Phillies have Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels at the top of their rotation, the Mets have Santana and a lot of uncertainty. They need a front-line starter to emerge from a pool that includes Mike Pelfrey, John Maine and Oliver Perez. If that trio does not improve from last season, and the Mets are unable to make a move before the trading deadline, they will not have enough pitching to make it through September. Fortunately for the Mets, they play in an enormous ballpark, so a breakthrough is always possible. One candidate may be Fernando Nieve, who posted a 3.12 earned run average in seven starts last season, one of few bright spots.
Not Done Yet
Since his first full season in the major leagues, Wright had never hit fewer than 27 home runs, and then last year he dropped all the way down to 10. The Mets believe it was an aberration, and so do scouts who have followed Wright closely. His numbers fell because of the enormous ballpark, the mandate to hit to right, and the lack of protection in the lineup. Playing home games at Citi Field, Wright may never hit 33 homers again, as he did in 2008. But the Mets expect him to be back over 20 this season with a ton of RBI doubles.
The National League does not have many lineups with as much star power 1-5 as the Mets. When healthy, they can go from Reyes to Daniel Murphy to Beltran to Wright to Bay. The only relative unknown there is Murphy, but he led the team in home runs last season and batted .282 in the second half. The Mets will need to be one of the best-hitting teams in the league to compensate for their pitching staff, but they have the personnel at the top of the order to make that happen.
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