The New York Mets may have plenty of reason to celebrate this season
The New York Mets are entering the season with very low fan expectations and an even lower payroll. At this point, they're pretty much done acquiring anyone of substance for the upcoming season, and so, the current roster is just about what we're looking at.
Last week, I examined what the Mets roster may potentially look like. Based on that, we could see how this team could be a contender if all the pieces fall into place. They have talent. Despite what many "experts" think.
Even if they fall well short of winning a wild card, they're still a dangerous team for the right opponent. Imagine the Mets helping the Phillies and ruining the Miami Marlins' playoff chances like the Marlins did to them a few years ago.
How would Jose Reyes feel about the Mets then?
If the Atlanta Braves had been on the wrong side of the spoiler role as recently as last season, with the intensity of their rivalry with the Mets, how much would Chipper Jones despise New York and Citi Field if the Mets had a hand in making his final season another collapse?
The Mets at the very least have the talent to embrace the role of spoiler and really hurt a team with playoff aspirations. Though there are several players and factors that could contribute to this, five really stand out to me.
The Mets home park holds a few secrets to help the boys in orange and blue
The New York Mets have an ultimate home-field advantage. It's called Citi Field. Since its inception in 2009, teams have had trouble hitting home runs there. The big issue has been made over the Mets lack of power there, but opposing teams have done just as poorly.
One reason has been the dimensions down the lines and to straight centerfield (335 ft down left field, 330 ft down right field and 408 ft to center). This has made it difficult for players to really get a hold of one down the line or get a double to center. Fly balls die in the canyons of Citi Field.
The Mets decided to change the dimensions to make the Mets 81 home games a little more comfortable for the home team. This may very well help the Mets be better hitters at home as the season progresses and they get used to their new dimensions.
Opposing teams may not make the adjustments well enough and still struggle as a result. This favors the Mets and will hurt the teams late in the year that travel to Queens.
Johan Santana is getting ready for a healthy season
The Mets ace, Johan Santana, missed his final four starts of 2010 and all of last season and has had several questions facing his recovery from Tommy John surgery. Here's a pitcher that, before he was shut down to injury, posted a 2.98 ERA with 144 strikeouts.
Reports have surfaced that point to Santana being on pace to report next month to spring training on time and at full strength. If he does show what he's capable of, it will be later in the season. He will be tender and cautious as the season begins.
As he gets going through the warm months and the fires of competition start burning, he will begin to open it up a bit more. This will lead to him most likely performing strong down the final stretch. This will be particularly true at home.
At Citi Field, he has posted a 2.82 ERA, 147 strikeouts and 15 wins in 27 starts over the course of not even two full seasons. He has been very good at home while not having good run support.
He could make winning against these Mets very difficult late in the season.
The heart of the Mets order will be lethal this season
The Mets were plastered with injuries last season. They had four major injuries that hurt them throughout the year: David Wright, Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy and Jose Reyes. While Reyes is gone, the rest are returning healthy this season.
This points to a power surge for this lineup and an increase of run production for the team overall. Duda, Wright and Davis combined for 31 home runs in 819 at bats total. If completely healthy, they will all have around 500 at-bats each and imagine how much more they will do with double the opportunities.
Ike Davis, for example, only had 129 at-bats and still hit seven home runs in just 36 games. David Wright began with back issues but was finding his stroke as the season was coming to a close. He tallied 14 home runs in his 102 games.
If given a complete and healthy year, those numbers are easily projected between 20-25 home runs. The key will be the maturation of Lucas Duda. Was his 10 home runs in 100 games a fluke? It's doubtful. As he gets more comfortable in his role in the outfield, he will become more comfortable at the plate.
When combined, healthy and another season of experience under their belt, these hitters will be a force against opposing teams late in the season when they're used to one another and their surroundings.
When you factor in Daniel Murphy's ability to get on base and/or to drive runs in, the offense will be fierce. Teams in playoff contention need to be careful not to underestimate them, or they will pay dearly in the loss column and their team ERA.
The Mets added depth to the back end of the bullpen so Mets fans and Bobby Parnell don't have to sweat it out in the ninth inning
The Mets had a problem closing out games last season. In particular, they had issues at the back end of the bullpen late in the season. Mets GM resolved to address this issue and acquired a reliever Ramon Ramirez in a trade and signed two free-agent relievers, Jon Rauch and Frankie Francisco.
Ramirez had a 2.62 ERA last season for San Francisco and was a throw-in in the Andres Torres for Angel Pagan trade. Rauch and Francisco combined for 28 saves last year (11 for Rauch, 17 for Frankie Frank).
Both have experience closing out games, and unlike Bobby Parnell, are capable of consistently doing it. This is a big deal.
When factoring in that the Mets end the season playing every N.L. East team at home in the final two weeks and then end the season against the Marlins and Braves on the road, this is a very important addition.
These are teams that were able to make comebacks against the Mets last season when their suspect bullpen broke down. The difference of a good bullpen last season would have meant possibly another 10 wins for the Mets.
Certainly, they will be able to utilize it this season to make another team have a bad September swoon.
The Mets love their manager and he makes them a better team
The Mets were not sure what they had in Terry Collins this time last year. He was just hired and had yet to see how the players would respond to him. After a full season the Mets were summed up in one word: resilient.
The Mets kept themselves in games all year. Despite injuries, blown saves, traded sluggers and all kinds of controversies, the Mets projected the calm and steady nature of their manager, Terry Collins.
He was their main motivation and their source of inspiration. The players embraced him so much that they would literally run through a wall for him by the end of the year.
Collins is the final factor. He ended up finishing 77-85 in his first full season, with a 5-13 start being the worst stretch of the season, and thus, costing them a .500 record.
His name was mentioned in manager of the year talk at one point in the season, but as the team began to fade due to the strain of far too many injuries, that talk faded with it.
Still, he had a successful season for a manager that was expected to do nothing with nothing. This season, he once again is expected to do nothing with little to nothing.
He will find a way to turn that nothing roster into a motivated spoiler at the very worst case scenario.