Mets Opening Day outlook
Core group of veterans senses urgency for success in '08
A balance of emotions must be struck for a team to prosper. Joe Torre characterized it as "being intense without being tense" when he managed the Mets in the 1970s and into the 1980s and suggested veteran teams were more likely than young teams to achieve it.
The mostly veteran Mets of 2007 attained that balance but were unable to maintain it, losing their intensity after seven weeks of dominating the division, as they had in 2006.
The '08 edition is fully aware of that as it begins the season. What the Mets may have to fight this year is the latter part of Torre's advice. A sense of urgency exists because of what wasn't accomplished last season, and because the opportunity for this configuration of players to accomplish it almost certainly won't last beyond October.
No matter how the Mets fare this season, overhaul is likely. The composition of the team will change dramatically with Carlos Delgado, Moises Alou, Orlando Hernandez, and perhaps Pedro Martinez and Oliver Perez, departing. If the current configuration wants to win a ring, this is the year. Hence, the urgency.
And urgency is the cousin of tension.
Before it's all over, and despite the potential of their batting order, the Mets may emerge as a team that prospers primarily because of its pitching, especially if John Maine continues to throw as he has in Florida.
The National League has no offensive juggernaut. With Alou in place, the Mets' order is better than most, though hardly extraordinary. Therefore, an experienced staff ought to assert itself. If Mike Pelfrey realizes his potential, the rotation could be the best in the game.
Age -- particularly the likelihood of injuries -- and a stunning lack of depth could conspire against the Mets. No team realistically can anticipate a season free of injury to front-line players. But the Mets enter this one hoping for just that. The club has a talent pool of essentially 30 players, with no young understudies ready to step in for any position player for any extended period. The bench is well equipped to handle the one-game-at-a-time responsibilities, but not to play with great regularity.
Projected starting lineup
|1. SS Jose Reyes|
|2. 2B Luis Castillo|
|3. 3B David Wright|
|4. CF Carlos Beltran|
|5. 1B Carlos Delgado|
|6. LF Angel Pagan|
|7. RF Ryan Church|
|8. C Brian Schneider|
|1. LHP Johan Santana|
|2. RHP Pedro Martinez|
|3. LHP Oliver Perez|
|4. RHP John Maine|
|5. RHP Mike Pelfrey|
|Closer: LHP Billy Wagner|
|Setup: RHP Aaron Heilman|
|Setup: LHP Pedro Feliciano|
|Middle: RHP Matt Wise|
|Middle: RHP Joe Smith|
|Long: RHP Jorge Sosa|
Injuries aside, if the Mets don't prove susceptible to left-handed pitching in the weeks before the return of Alou, and get a reasonable performance from their fifth spot in the rotation, they'll be fine.
You'll know they're in trouble if...
An absence of Alou that is longer than expected could allow opponents to load up on left-handed relief pitching. Without Alou, the Nos. 4-8 spots in the order could be undermined by left-handed pitching, no matter who the left fielder.
No single sequence of games in a season defines a team. But playing the Phillies (six times), Braves (six) and Cubs (two) a total of 14 times in the first 24 games ought to tell the Mets where they stand comparatively to some of the other top teams in the NL.
As always, the Mets get six games against the Yankees. The Rangers, Angels and Mariners are the other pending American League opponents. The Mets' Interleague challenges will not be as daunting as last year, when they opposed every postseason entry from 2006, split with the Yankees, and won five of nine otherwise.
The Bottom Line
Too much depends on the availability of Alou, who is likely to miss 50 games, even if his current malady is the only problem he develops all year. The production of Delgado, batting without Alou's protection until early May, at the earliest, and the relative effectiveness of relief pitcher Duaner Sanchez remain as critical elements.
If none of the three primary contenders in the NL East -- the Mets, Braves and Philles -- suffers a major calamity, the Mets can regain their championship status. They have the most talent most years.
Marty Noble is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.