The New York Mets have been referred to as "choke artists" by players on their division rival, the Philadelphia Phillies. The team that was one win away from the World Series in 2006, sustained two years of back-to-back September collapses. Will 2009 be a year in which the Mets are finally able to put the late season demons behind them?
A new beginning in brand new Citi Field is something the organization and its fans have looked forward to for several years. However, new facilities do not guarantee success, even if the backdrop is no longer Shea Stadium.
With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report for spring training in just over nine days, there are many important questions that the Mets need to address if this team is going to finish the season at the top of their division.
Let's examine the strengths and weaknesses of this year's Mets team compared with its division rivals, most notably the Philadelphia Phillies and the Atlanta Braves.
1. Will the new Mets' bullpen acquisitions of J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez (K-Rod) help to solidify the lackluster relief pitching that has occurred for the past few years?
Answer: Now that former Mets reliever Aaron Heilman is a member of the Chicago Cubs and J.J. Putz is the new set-up man, the Mets should have a much easier time getting opposing batters out in late innings. The Mets are also excited about giving the ball to K-Rod (62 saves last year) in save situations. Thanks to Omar Minaya, there will be no more blown saves by Billy Wagner.
2. What will be the projected rotation of starting pitchers for the Mets come April?
Answer: No one will deny that Johan Santana will be the Mets' number one starter, but the question is whether or not Santana will get back to being a 20-game winner. With the newly acquired relief pitching, I predict Santana will achieve that mark. As far as the other starting pitchers go, the recently signed Oliver Perez should move up to the two spot, with John Maine or Mike Pelfrey in the three spot. To round out the rotation, New York will look to one of the recently acquired pitchers—Tim Redding or Freddy Garcia.
3. What place in the NL East will the Mets finish the season?
Answer: Second place. With Philadelphia returning virtually all of its roster from last year's World Series team, the Mets are going to have to play consistent baseball not just through the All-Star Break in July, but all the way to October. I predict the Mets will finish the season with 90 wins and a second place finish in the NL East and a wild-card spot in the playoffs.
4. Which Mets player will have a "break out" year offensively?
Answer: Jose Reyes, who batted .297 last year with 204 hits and 68 RBI will turn things around and have even better numbers. I predict he finishes the season with a .310 average, 220 hits, and 90 RBI, while stealing a club record 80 bases.
5. Will Citi Field play out to be a "Pitcher's Ballpark" like everyone predicts?
Answer: Unlike Yankee Stadium, in which left-handed hitters love the short right field porch, Citi Field has a considerably larger outfield (408 ft. to dead center field, 335 ft. to left field and 330 ft. to right field). I actually predict that Citi Field will not be as "pitcher-friendly" as everyone thinks. Of course, it's not going to be a "hitting frenzy" like Minute Maid Park in Houston, but when the weather starts to warm up in New York in May and June, look for baseballs to be clearing the fences of the outfield and the "Home run Apple" to be bobbing up and down.