MLB Preview 2011: The New York Mets Guide to Recapturing Postseason Baseball

Jim MancariCorrespondent IMarch 8, 2011

MLB Preview 2011: The New York Mets Guide to Recapturing Postseason Baseball

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    The New York Mets will be celebrating the 25th anniversary of their 1986 World Series title later this year.

    You know what that means, Mets fans: It's time for another championship.

    While it seems the other four teams in the National League East all improved this offseason, the Mets were content with the status quo. The new ownership will rely on consistent production from the team's top players in order to get back to the postseason.

    So far, everyone has been writing off the Mets as a contender. The Mets may not have the pieces to compete for a World Series title this season, but they may turn out to be the surprise team in the league.

    The Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves appear strong on paper, but you still have to play the games on the field. Even so, the N.L. Wild Card is up for grabs.

    In order to play ball in October, the Mets will need strong contributions from all 25 players all the time. Many things will have to go perfectly as planned, but the team has talent and hopefully a renewed sense of confidence.

    Here are 10 factors that will lead the Mets to the postseason.

10. Cut the Dead Weight

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    Sadly, ever since this play, Luis Castillo has been berated with criticism from Met fans.

    Castillo had a terrific career, including two World Series rings with the Florida Marlins, but his knee problems caught up with him.

    Some reports claim that he is still considered the front-runner to win the second base competition. However, with Daniel Murphy and Brad Emaus waiting in the wings, this is the perfect time to cut Castillo.

    He lacks range at second base and is no longer a threat to steal bases. He's still a great contact hitter and bunter, but there's no reason Murphy or Emaus can't develop those skills.

    Speaking of dead weight, Oliver Perez is somehow still with the ballclub. After refusing a minor league assignment last year, he asked to audition as a starter this spring.

    That experiment failed, and he will now compete for a role as a long reliever or situational lefty. Just imagine: Two outs, bottom of the eighth in Philadelphia in a tie ballgame, and Perez comes on to face Chase Utley and Ryan Howard—good luck Ollie.

    The Mets made a substantial financial investment in these players and are attempting to get any value possible for their investments. However, it might just be time to bite the bullet, absorb their salaries and move on.

9. Starts with the Manager

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    After a detailed search, the Mets named Terry Collins their new manager.

    In his limited time at the helm, Collins has established himself as a fiery leader who's not afraid to confront players.

    The last three Mets managers—Art Howe, Willie Randolph and Jerry Manuel—were all rather passive, and it showed with the Mets' play on the field. Randolph had a nice run up until the horrific collapse in 2007.

    Collins brings energy, experience and knowledge of the game to the Mets dugout. He served as a minor league instructor last season, so many of the young players the Mets will rely on this season are familiar with him.

    The baseball season is a long endeavor. Sometimes, players lose their focus, but don't expect that to be the case under Collins.

    He succeeded beautifully in his first test involving Carlos Beltran's shift to right field. Collins let Beltran make his own decision, which turned out to be the logical choice in the end.

8. A Little Luck in the Bullpen

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    The Mets' bullpen will be made up of everything, including one-time can't miss prospects, journeymen, Rule-5 picks and even law-breakers.

    Francisco Rodriguez has looked good so far this spring, and if he can put his demons behind him, he can have a big year. The Mets are likely to be involved in many close games, so having a solid closer may allow them to emerge on the winning side.

    After K-Rod, the bullpen will be full of question marks. Bobby Parnell and D.J. Carrasco should see time as setup men. Jason Isringhausen, Pedro Beato, Taylor Buchholz, Manny Acosta, Tim Byrdak, Taylor Tankersley, Pat Misch and a slew of others are trying to secure spots this spring.

    The Mets will need all of their relievers to perform in their assigned roles. That doesn't necessarily mean everyone needs to have a career year for this team to win.

    With a little luck, the Mets can catch lightning in a bottle with some of their bullpen arms.

7. Johan Santana Returns Healthy Midseason

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    When healthy, Johan Santana has the potential to be a top-five pitcher in the big leagues.

    However, injuries have clouded his Mets career to this point. He is currently with the team in Port St. Lucie, but he will use the first half of the season for rehabbing his shoulder.

    If Santana is fully healthy for the second half, it will probably be the best "acquisition" by any team around the trade deadline. If all the starters are pitching well, the Mets can sport a six-man rotation, which will also allow Santana to ease back into action.

    Not only would the Mets be getting a jolt in talent down the stretch, but they would also welcome the return a clubhouse leader.

6. Two "Chrises"

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    The Mets signed two "Chrises"—Chris Young and Chris Capuano—to compete for the fourth and fifth starter role.

    Young has only started 36 games the past three seasons after three consecutive 30-start years from 2005-2007.

    He feels healthy this spring and still has electric stuff. With a strong campaign, he can be a favorite for N.L. Comeback Player of the Year.

    Former Milwaukee Brewer Chris Capuano will also be in the mix for the starting rotation. He is five years removed from an 18-win season, so he will be looking to rediscover himself with the Mets.

    These two reclamation projects represent a gamble, but the rewards seem to outweigh the risks.

5. Mike Pelfrey and R.A. Dickey Must Get Even Better

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    Mike Pelfrey opened the 2010 season as one of the best pitchers in the N.L. before he hit a midseason slump. He picked up though in the second half to finish with 15 wins.

    R.A. Dickey burst onto the scene with 11 wins and a 2.94 ERA following his call-up in May.

    Both of these guys were nice stories last year, but they will be expected to build upon their successes this year.

    With Johan Santana on the shelf, Pelfrey and Dickey will need to perform consistently atop the Mets rotation. They won't be able to fully replace Santana's presence, but they have the talent to keep their team in the game during each of their starts.

    Pelfrey appears ready to take the next step in his career, while Dickey is out to prove that 2010 wasn't a fluke.

4. Avoiding Sophomore Slumps

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    Three young Mets—Ike Davis, Josh Thole and Jon Niese—will all be expected to continue developing on the job.

    Davis filled a huge void at first base after Daniel Murphy went down in spring training.

    He has a ton of power and plays Gold Glove caliber defense. He should be hitting down in the order so will have many opportunities to drive in runs.

    Thole is a terrific contact hitter who may even develop some pop. More important than his offensive attributes, he handles the pitching staff like a veteran. Most of the pitchers have said they love pitching to Thole, and he will continue to improve in this department.

    Niese should break camp as the Mets No. 3 after finishing 9-10 last season. He actually pitched much better than these numbers suggest, considering he fizzled out in September.

    His cutter and curveball have induced many swings-and-misses so far, so expect big things out of the young lefty.

3. Power Rediscovery for Jason Bay

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    Jason Bay was having the worst season of his professional career before a concussion in late July ended the remainder of his season.

    He hit 36 HR for the Boston Red Sox in 2009 which led the Mets to sign him to a four-year deal with a fifth-year vesting option.

    Bay needs to rediscover his stroke if he is to be a productive member in the heart of the batting order. He is penciled in to bat fifth between Carlos Beltran and Ike Davis, so he should have plenty of chances to drive in runs.

    The thing with Bay is that he doesn't have to go out and hit 35+ HR for this to be a successful year. It's tough to hit home runs in Citi Field to begin with.

    Bay needs to work on driving the ball into the gaps. He has above-average speed and can turn doubles into triples in Citi Field.

    Met fans will be content if Bay drives in 100 runs regardless of his home run total. Naturally, he will add to his RBI total is he hits the ball out of the park with regularity.

2. Healthy and Productive Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran

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    "As Reyes goes, so goes the Mets."

    Jose Reyes when healthy is the most dynamic leadoff hitter in the game of baseball. He can bunt, steal bases, advance runners and even hit with some pop.

    Reyes needs to stay focused on baseball if the Mets plan on making a run.

    Fresh off his shift to right field, Carlos Beltran put the team before his own needs which shows he will be ready to compete in 2011.

    Beltran may take it easy when he can, but he will turn it up when the time comes. Though he may be a trade candidate if the Mets find themselves out of contention, he also could be the key factor to the Mets success.

    Reyes and Beltran can bring exciting baseball back to Flushing.

1. Emergence of a Leader

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    The Mets have lacked a true vocal presence the last few years. David Wright is a born leader, but his inconsistent play at times makes him lack credibility.

    Wright should step up this season and emerge as the team leader. With uncertainty surrounding Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran's contractual status, Wright needs to put his stamp on this team.

    However, every player must be accountable for their actions.

    Terry Collins will not tolerate any funny business and neither will the new regime or the fans.

    Angel Pagan also has a chance to emerge as a leader of the Mets. He will be firmly entrenched in center field this season, which will allow him to be the captain of the diamond.

    Pagan hustles, plays the game the right way and always has a smile on his face. He is quickly becoming one of the most recognizable faces of the franchise.

    Of the 10 factors, leadership will be the most vital to the team's success. The talent is there; the Mets just have to channel their energy into a playoff run.