If you haven’t been following the past two seasons, all you need to know is that the Mets didn’t win the NL East, the Phillies did. Met fans are like the lions at the zoo, only the zoo keeper keeps forgetting to feed us. If we don’t sink our teeth into a division title this year, things could get really ugly. Lucky for us, the Mets are going to do it this year. Here’s why.
1. Citi Field
From what we’ve seen early on, it looks like it is going to be hard to hit a home run in the new ballpark. This works perfectly for the Mets. Mike Pelfrey aside, this is a pitching staff that likes to pitch up in the zone and get fly ball outs. A big ballpark is going to help the Mets’ staff more than a group of ground ball pitchers.
A big ballpark also favors team speed and the Mets have speed in spades. Jose Reyes had 37 doubles and 19 triples last year. With the deep gaps in Citi Field, expect a lot of those doubles to turn into triples.
The most important player for the Mets in the new ballpark will be Carlos Beltran. According to The Hardball Times, last year Beltran made 110 plays that an average center fielder doesn’t. This was the highest total they’ve seen since they started tracking this earlier in the decade.
With more fly balls staying in the park, Beltran is going to have a chance to turn even more extra base hits into outs. Beltran’s ability to cover more ground than his counterparts in a bigger ballpark Citi Field be worth three or four wins for the Mets this year.
According to Baseball Prospectus, Mets players spent a combined total of 1,645 days sidelined due to injury. This was 328 days more than the next most injured team in the division (the Nats) and 844 days more than the Phillies.
The Mets will be slightly healthier this season as they have cut ties with Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez and Moises Alou, two injury prone veterans. However, there are still rumblings around the league that the Mets as an organization are behind the times when it comes to sports medicine. Don’t expect the total to drop significantly.
Expect the Phillies total to rise significantly. Cole Hamels was a workhorse last season throwing 227 regular season innings. Hamels is already complaining about a sore elbow this year. Expect the Phillies ace to miss a few starts.
3. Offseason Acquisitions
No, the Mets didn’t get Manny Ramirez. Yes, they could have done more to improve the club this season. But they did address their biggest need this off-season. They most certainly did.
The Mets did exactly what needed to be done to a bullpen that blew 29 saves last season, they gutted it. The upgrade from Heilman and Co. to K-Rod and Putz should be worth about four extra wins for the Mets.
Meanwhile, down the Jersey turnpike, the Phillies didn’t improve at all. The move from Pat Burrell to Raul Ibanez in left field is lateral at best. Both players put up similar numbers at the plate and both are awful defenders.
The Mets did more to close the gap between them and the Phillies than the Phillies did to widen it.
4. The Lack of a Third Contender
Everybody loves the Marlins this year. I don’t. The Marlins were insanely lucky last year, they won 84 games despite only having a +3 run differential. They won a lot of one run games in 2008 which, contrary to common belief, is not a talent. It’s a coincidence.
Aside from Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla, this team does not have another legitimate power threat. They also don’t have a stopper in the rotation that can end a long losing streak. Like the Mets, the Marlins had bullpen issues last year. Unlike the Mets, they did not do an extraordinary job addressing the bullpen in the off-season.
The Braves are going to be the biggest threat to the Mets and Phillies this year. The Braves have a very solid rotation and a decent bullpen. Unfortunately, the Braves have even less pop in their lineup than the Marlins. This lineup is nothing to write home about when you get past Brian McCann. I don’t think Mr. Swing at Everything (Jeff Francoeur) will have the bounce back year that some people are projecting. It is almost impossible to be a consistent major league hitter when you have poor plate discipline. I also don’t quite understand the Garret Anderson signing. I would rather have taken a chance on a young outfielder who would produce similar numbers.
The Nats are just awful. Expect this to be a two team race again.
5. The Phillies Bullpen
While the Mets pen blew 29 saves last year, the Phillies pen blew zero. This was ultimately the difference in the division race last year as the Phillies won the division by three games.
Guess what? That 29-save gap is going to shrink by a lot more than three this year.
Chad Durbin dropped from 13.9 percent in 2007 to 6.4 percent in 2008. This happened in Philly’s band box of a ballpark no less.
With lefty specialist J.C. Romero already serving a 50 game suspension for PEDs and Cole Hamels shoulder problems, the bullpen will be truly stretched this season. Don’t expect a repeat performance of 2008.
The Phillies needed a lot to go right to win the division last year, and they got it. This isn’t a slight against our rivals to the south who were a worthy World Series champion. Every team needs a lot of luck to win a title.
That being said, it would be unreasonable to expect that much to go wrong for the Mets again this season. There can’t be that much bad karma in Flushing, can there? I don’t think so, look for the Mets to top the NL East in 2009.
The Hardball Times keeps track of home run-to-fly ball ratio. On average, 11 percent of fly balls leave the ballpark. Any drastic deviation from 11 percent is “probably the result of luck.” Brad Lidge saw only 4.4 percent of his fly balls leave the yard last year, down from 14.7 percent in 2007.