New stadium, new bullpen, new attitude, new season, and heck, it's New York. All of the pieces appear to be in place for the New York Mets to wash away the stench of the past two Septembers. As a Mets fan of 25 years now, I just can't help but wonder—will it be really different this time?
One of the things that I have screamed about for the last three years—which includes the 2006 NLCS, is the lack of offense on this team, despite the heavy hitters in the middle of the order. They simply have not delivered with the money on the table. GM Omar Minaya believes that he has the group to get the job done this year.
That is primarily why he did not tinker with "the core" of this group. Even Carlos Delgado get s a return engagement, when many a Met fan makes the argument that he should go, while his trade value still has value.
While I felt that some major changes needed to be made with this lineup, Mets management did not. So, you will have the same cast of characters, as you did one year ago, hoping that these guys are a year wiser. Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, David Wright, and Carlos Delgado are the nucleus. We know what the expectations are.
Daniel Murphy has been tabbed as the golden boy, hitting in the No. 2 hole, in front of the big boys. Does he deserve that label? We'll find out. His defense could be an issue, which means you could see Marlon Anderson as a late-inning replacement in left.
However, expect Murphy to see 500 at-bats, unless the bottom falls out, which is a pretty short bottom in New York.
Then, there's the Ryan Church/Fernando Tatis tandem. I wasn't a fan of bringing Church back, due to his lingering concussions. If he proves that he is still the player of early 2008, then I am wrong.
However, Tatis has proven that he still wants to play, and will be hard to replace, if manager Jerry Manuel wants to get new acquisition Gary Sheffield some at-bats. More on Sheffield in a minute.
As for the catching situation, Brian Schneider will get most of the time there. Ramon Castro can hit, but it's hard to swing the bat from the trainer's table on the disabled list. You can carry any deficiencies Schneider has, as long as the rest of the lineup in front of him is producing.
Ditto for Luis Castillo. Omar stuck his neck out for this guy, so we'll see exactly what Castillo is made of. If he looks like the same player he did in his Florida days, then Minaya looks like a genius. If not, then it puts a boldface on the fact that Minaya should not have received a three-year contract extension.
We all know that pitching will make the difference with this group, especially with the aforementioned lack of clutch hitting. Johan Santana winning 20 games in no longer a guess, with the revamped bullpen.
Oliver Perez remains an enigma. From his WBC start in Mexico, where he was knocked around, right up to his six-run first inning disaster against the Red Sox in the pre-season finale, Perez will be the one to watch.
If he wins 15-20 games, the Mets will be right there to win the NL East. If not, let's just say Omar knew what he was getting when he inked Perez to that big six-year contract.
As for Mike Pelfrey and John Maine, another year closer to maturity for both. Especially for Pelfrey, who had a breakout season last year. Hopefully, marriage will do him wonders, and benefit the Mets, as well. Maine is recovering from surgery, so let's hope the recovery process is not a painful one, both physically, and on the scoreboard.
Finally, the No. 1 area of focus in the off-season, the bullpen. Frankie Rodriguez is now the guy, with J.J. Putz, Sean Green, and Pedro Feliciano as the supporting cast. While there are NO guarantees, this will be as close as it gets. Feliciano will be a key, as he will be counted on to get both lefties and righties out.
Finally, the X-factor—Jerry Manuel. Can he push the right buttons for the entire season? If he is as good as Omar and the Wilpons think he is, can he keep a foolproof bullpen rested enough to last the season?
Can he keep Delgado and Reyes motivated through 162 games? Will his outside the box style be enough to overtake the world champion Phillies? Incidentally, Philly fans hated Charlie Manuel before September of 2007, and their two division titles.
Questions? Always. Answers. Not necessarily. There's a lot of the new, but the one question this 2009 season that will never get old with the fans, and with the New York media—will it be different this time?