Entering their glitzy new ballpark, the New York Mets will enjoy the modern amenities and creature comforts of Citi Field. With a revamped bullpen, Mets brass is hoping in 2009 the club will protect leads and secure October dates in Queens. No longer at dumpy Shea Stadium, the team now has a home where they can be proud to play.
Though the surroundings have changed, like the ever-present, dank smell in the corridors at Shea, old nagging questions and baggage from many disappointments will dog this team until they shut up their critics and erase the bad memories by making the postseason in 2009.
To extinguish those burdensome questions and make the playoffs after falling short the last two seasons, the Mets needed to improve significantly going into 2009.
Getting the most ink and negative national attention last year were the many failures of the bullpen. In 2008 no lead seemed safe. The Mets lost seven times after taking a lead into the final inning, the division rival Phillies not once.
By any measure the club improved by acquiring J.J. Putz to set up new closer Francisco Rodriguez. But will this be enough?
Will simply adding arms to a bad bullpen get this team to October baseball?
The answer is no.
The most visible problem last year was perhaps not the biggest impediment to the club’s success entering the New Year. Save for the bullpen moves, in the offseason the Mets failed to improve the roster enough to earn a spot in October.
The starting rotation is full of question marks and the lineup is probably not good enough to snatch the division crown from the cheese steak squad.
The Gary Sheffield signing was a bold move intended to inject some chutzpah into the lineup and should be applauded.
Before getting Sheff’, the Mets were counting on Daniel Murphy and Ryan Church in the corner outfield spots. Relying on a near rookie and a concussion case to provide outfield power, while assuming aging Carlos Delgado will have another productive season was a losing gamble.
If Sheffield can still hit, he will inject some much needed offense and attitude into a sometimes anemic lineup that seems to lack leadership at crucial moments.
However, Sheff’ is certainly no sure thing, and to the dismay of many fans, Mets ownership foolishly passed on signing Manny Ramirez—the one player that could put them over the top.
The future Hall-of-Famer was ripe for the picking. While he is a bit wacky, and wore out his welcome in Boston, his presence in the lineup would have made the Mets a feared team. A player like Ramirez could provide the missing ingredient: he gets big hits and performs at crucial times in ballgames, something the Mets continue to lack.
Homegrown stars David Wright and Jose Reyes have thrilled crowds since arriving on the big stage, but have not performed in signature situations the way ace lefty Johan Santana did last September on three days rest when he nearly willed the team into the playoffs. He threw a complete game, three-hit shutout that evened the Mets with the Brewers for the wild card, but it wasn’t enough. Behind Oliver Perez, they lost the next day and were on early vacation for the second straight season.
This year could be very similar, with an equally disappointing result. Behind Santana the rotation is shaky. Head case Perez, who just signed to a new deal is unpredictable as ever. Mike Pelfrey showed durability as a starter after throwing 200 innings in 2008, but is still young and needs to prove he can do it again and not regress. John Maine, coming off an ineffective season has to summon 2007, when he won 15 games.
Entering 2009, Mets management let Manny Ramirez slip away and did not improve the rotation behind Santana. Except for the bullpen, the team is virtually the same club that has missed the playoffs the last two seasons after being an April favorite to, at the very least, win their division.
The bullpen was improved—more leads will be safe. But this lineup still has to prove they can step up and score runs late and behind. Plus, the lack of depth in the starting rotation after Santana is troubling.
An improved bullpen in nice, but like the new amenities at Citi Field, both will seem hollow without leads to protect and October baseball dates in Queens.