It was a miserable 37 degree, rainy and snowy day and The Mets were ready to start the new '09 season.
Johan showed the critics that his surgically repaired knee and rumored-to-be-sore elbow were perfectly fine in 5 and 2/3 work, including 3 and 2/3 innings of hitless ball and seven strikeouts. The only concern was the four walks he issued, but you can chalk that up to poor weather.
After that, Sean Green finished off the next four batters and the Mets and their fans eagerly waited for the colossal eighth-ninth inning punch of the new look, New York Mets bullpen.
J.J. Putz looked good, despite issuing a two-out walk. He ended the eighth and from there, K-Rod took over with a five-pitch at-bat ending in a weak grounder back to the mound followed by a two-pitch, weak fly out to first base. Then the hammer, a four-pitch strikeout ending with a change-up that could make any pro player look like a little-leaguer.
It was a dream come true for the Mets, but the season has just begun. The pressure of getting that first save on the road—in cold and damp weather—is the ice breaker. The adrenaline is pumping, and the Mets appear to be ready for anything. Then again, it's just one game.
Flashing back to the end of the previous season, one sees another collapse and more frustration. Heading into the offseason, the Mets were in dire need of a new bullpen.
Make no doubt about it, the corps needed to be revamped: Twenty-nine blown saves to 43 saves in the '08 season, with a number of those coming in September after Billy Wagner went down with a season ending injury.
Omar Minaya and the Mets front office took action by first signing K-Rod to a three-year, $36 million deal. Then, in a 12-player trade, they acquired J.J. Putz and Sean Green, thus completing the transformation.
Now, with what is considered by many to be one of the best bullpens in all of baseball, the Mets are poised to reclaim the NL East Championship.
However, the Phillies may have something to say about that, as they have the last two years. The Mets are confident that it will be different now that they have turned the nightmare of a bullpen into somewhat of a dream team.
As it was mentioned earlier that in '08, The Mets had only 43 saves to 29 blown saves, a ratio of roughly 1.5/1—the worst in Baseball.
With K-Rod (the single-season saves record holder) and J.J. Putz, the Mets are sure to improve on the two previous, dismal seasons, and they showed that Monday afternoon.
Last season, the Mets lost the NL East to the Phillies by three games, with 29 blown saves to thank. The league average for blown saves per team for last season was 22. By looking purely at stats on paper, the Mets would win the NL East by four games if they were closer to that average.
Then again, K-Rod and J.J. Putz aren't average closers, especially compared to the past two years of train wrecks. By that logic, it is a safe to say that the Mets will be in the top ten in least-blown saves and should be projected at around 14-16 blown saves.
Still sound high for the K-Rod/Putz combo?
It seems low for the number of games the Mets would be projected to win the NL East by: 12-14 games over the Phighting Phils.
And you ask how could it get even more lucrative? Well, blown saves don't count for leads lost in the sixth or seventh innings, so throw another two to three games on that, making it a 14-17-game lead for the Mets.
The argument has been made that the Phillies, too, have bettered themselves. They did sign Raul Ibanez, but they also lost Pat Burrell, so that pretty much cancels out. They re-signed Jamie Moyer, but he is turning 47 and not getting any younger.
Cole Hamels is having elbow troubles, but they appear to be less than serious, as he will be starting in the first or second series of the season. However, no one can be completely sure Hamels will be as effective as he was in '08 until we see him pitch. If he can't replicate his dazzling stuff from '08, the Phils have some trouble on their hands; they made no significant pitching additions this offseason.
The latest word on Billy Wagner has been that he will be back some time around September 1.
He may be ready earlier, but Mets trainers and coaches are being very careful with his recovery. The Mets bullpen would then include: Pedro Feliciano, Sean Green, Brian Stokes, Billy Wagner, J.J. Putz, and K-Rod.
With three All-Star closers sharing roles, it relieves the stress of starting pitching. Knowing that they can pitch six decent innings and have a very good shot at a win can only help the mindset of Mets' starters.
My Prediction for the end of the season:
Team: W-L GB