The temperature is rising, and the March calender on your refrigerator is almost completely covered in X's. Yep, it's time to put away that snow shovel, my friend, and pull out that Johan Santana jersey you just bought. It's baseball season, and after last year, it couldn't have come too quickly. The Mets look a little different, but not to fear! With the season starting tomorrow, everything you need to know about the 2008 installment of Casey's Amazin's is laid out below for your reading pleasure.
2008 Preview: Pitching
To be fair, I really liked Tom Glavine, and I thought people were way too hard on him after the Florida game last year. It's going to be really difficult to replace 200 innings, no matter how ineffective and uninspiring he was at times. Anyone who pitches like Glavine did most of last year is a valuable commodity.
But, the Mets are definitely better in the pitching rotation than they were a year ago. Obviously, Santana is as improvement from Glavine if you want to view it like that, a healthy Pedro is better than an unhealthy one, and Oliver Perez and John Maine will hopefully be more consistent than they were last season.
Maine has said that his goal is to pitch 200 innings, and if he does that he will win at least 15 games and likely be the de facto #2 guy in the rotation. That is a definite improvement from last year's Maine. I'm not sure they will ever get much more from Perez than they did last year, as I think 15 wins is the absolute ceiling for him, so the Mets need him to just pitch like last season. The Mets simply can't afford rely on Pedro Martinez this year, so they just need him to stay healthy and just be there. If he does this, his experience alone is good for about 10 wins, I would think. Expect Pedro to be around that range- really good sometimes, and really bad others. But if he's healthy, he's tough. That's just the way he is.
As for O.M.V.E.G., Santana will dominate. Mark it down. He will win 15 games easily, probably more like 17-20. This is only the second lefty pitcher ever to be traded or sold under the age of 30 with a winning percentage of .650 or better. The other was Babe Ruth. You're talking about a guy who is in his prime, moving from the American League to the National League (where there are fewer great lineups and no D.H.), and is on a strong hitting team with good defense, a decent bullpen, and a reliable closer. He has a history of great pitching, he is in a vintage pitchers park, and he knows exactly what he's doing out there. He is also a lefty in a weak division who's great hitters, with Wright and Beltran on the Mets and Miguel Cabrera in Detroit, are all lefties or switch hitters (with the notable exception of Hanley Ramirez). Throw in the fact that he loves his teammates, and reportedly likes New York, and Santana is in for a special year.
If Santana can be a true ace, Pedro can stay healthy, Maine can pitch 200 innings, and Perez can repeat last year's performance, then all the Mets need from their fifth starter, likely Orlando Hernandez with Mike Pelfrey failing to impress in the spring, is for him to be servicable. El Duque has a new wind-up to take pressure of his injured foot (oh, how we'll miss the pure sweetness of the Duke's old leg kick), and although it seemed to be completely unhelpful at first, he seemed okay in his last spring start. Hernandez is not going to pitch 130 innings this year, but they need him to be reasonably serviceable when he is on the mound. He's not going to be healthy all season long, either, so they also need Pelfrey to be flexible, and decent when he pitches this season. I predict that Pelfrey will start the season as the fifth starter while Hernandez continues to prepare for the season on the Disabled List. If Pelfrey is solid for the time he has, it will give the Mets six good pitchers and five open spots - a very good problem to have in the rotation. But if Pelfrey fails to impress, which is far more likely, El Duque will take the spot when he can and hopefully be slightly better than bad. Really, if everything else goes right, that's all they need from the fifth spot in the rotation.
The bullpen will be interesting. Aaron Heilman was once again not traded this off-season, despite persistent rumors about his market value. Believe it or not, I think this will really benefit the Mets in the long run. Heilman is a solid bullpen pitcher, and although he seems to be a perennial butt of every Met fan's joke, he is the best they've got. Heilman needs to be reliable, and give up fewer home runs than he did last year. He will likely be the Mets' setup man, unless Duaner Sanchez really pitches well early on.