Is the NL East Ready For The "New" York Mets?

Christopher GordonContributor IApril 6, 2009

NEW YORK - APRIL 03:  Johan Santana #57 of the New York Mets  during an exhibition game against the Boston Red Sox on April 3, 2009 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. The game marks the first time the Mets play in their new ballpark.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

New stadium, new bullpen, new stats and bats, it's "New" York Mets baseball. Seems everyone, baseball fan or not, knows about the Mets' past two years of misery. They know of their potential to clinch the division and inability to actually do so.

Everyone knows. Yet, no one knows it better (or feels it more) than the diehard Mets fan—the fan more so perhaps than the Mets themselves. The players don't think too much about the numbers. 

The fan (and Manager) only thinks about the numbers. For instance, in 2007, the Mets were 88-74 and one game out of first. They were 15-9 in April and scored 132 runs.  Last year, they were 89-73 and three games away from first. In April of '08, they were 13-12 with 112 runs scored. 

This year, as with most every season, in order to stay on top early, the Mets need strong pitching. In theory, because of the extraordinary talent at the plate, all the Mets should require are for their pitchers to close the door.

Newly acquired J.J. Putz and Rodriguez will, no question, help put out any nasty fires set by Perez, Pelfrey or Maine. The Mets were 16-19 in one run games last year (22-15 in '07). Should they find themselves in such a situation this year, J.J. to K-Rod sits light years better than Heilman to Wagner.

The less Manuel has to rely on the new relievers, obviously, the better. And he has enough talented arms to not have to overuse (if such a word is even in Rodriguez' vocabulary) K-Rod. But Perez, for instance, only won one game in April last year and didn't win another until May 11th. 

The pitchers will be key in setting the tone for the Mets early this season.  During Spring Training, Maine had arm issues, Perez was inconsistent and Redding wound up on the 15-day DL.

Pelfrey (recently mentioned in an April Fool's Day prank trade with the Rangers) should continue to improve. He has the "stuff" aces are made of and has yet to fully use it all. The bullpen is solid sans Aaron Heilman and Sanchez; with the likes of Feliciano, Green and Stokes making way for the "new hires" Putz and K-Rod. 

The bats and speed of Reyes, Wright, Beltran and Murphy will generate runs early this season. The question remains how soon their bats will get cooking. Murphy has had a productive Spring as have most of the other hitters including utility-man, Fernando Tatis. 

And, with one home run away from 500, veteran Gary Sheffield was recently offered the chance to play with the Mets. This may be the help Delgado needs. Since Delgado's bat tends to wake up later than expected, a healthy Church and Sheffield will make fine fan and media distractions. 

The Mets have top-tier hitters and base-stealers, however, these hitters can be streaky and in order to dominate early, they need to start being productive early rather than later. 

Look for the Mets to play more small ball: hit-and-run plays, bunts and a mega-running game campaign. The Mets, on paper, can be as fast as the best of them (Rays, Twins).

If Manuel plays a more aggressive running game, something akin to Whitey Herzog's 1987 St. Louis Cardinals (248 team stolen bases), the Mets could truly be more dominate. 

During the Spring, Manuel was frequently playing with the lineup and often had Castillo lead off. There's good question about Castillo's bat and his declining plate discipline and ultimately, might be best later in the lineup. 

Luis is not the sparkplug he once was, though, might be capable of finding that punch again and winning games with slapped line drives in the gap of Citi Field. Wright and Reyes must find their grooves early.

Beltran needs to think less and apply the same approach to fielding to his hitting--to go for it and stop thinking. 

Everyone knows what's happened to the Mets. Only the diehard fans and the Mets themselves know this is their year...again.