Finally, after a long and brutally cold winter in New York, baseball is upon us. That means the Mets will begin their 50th season and attempt to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
The last four seasons have ended in bitter disappointment and the last two were really horrible. With a bunch of injuries and front office issues, the Mets will begin 2011 with a brand new regime.
That doesn't mean everything will start off perfectly as already some players are injured. There's of course the continuing saga of Carlos Beltran and his knee issues, and now Jason Bay will most likely start the season on the disabled list with an intercostal strain in his left rib cage. Not that it's as big of a deal, but reliever Jason Isringhausen developed an elbow injury and therefore was not placed on the 25-man roster heading north. The Mets are already without ace Johan Santana for a few months.
At the same time, they did bring in some pitching and have a little bit of depth in the outfield to replace Bay in the short-term.
If the Mets want to make the playoffs, and a lot will have to go right with the Phillies and Braves in the division, what will they have to do? Is pitching the absolute biggest key or will they rely heavily on their offense? How much of a factor will the bullpen be, especially with the loss of Pedro Feliciano?
Here are five things the Mets must do this season to return to the playoffs.
Most don't really consider this to be a big deal over the entire course of a season, but it is. Maybe more than any team in baseball, the Mets never come through in clutch situations.
They lose a bunch of games because of failing to come through with the big hit. If you take a look at their bases loaded numbers, they're awful. The Mets have hit one grand slam in the last two seasons and are always a strikeout waiting to happen.
Whether it's David Wright or any other hitter who's capable of getting the job done, they never do it, and that's what separates the Mets from other teams.
This issue has gone back for quite some time now, and was well-documented through the two collapses in 2007 and 2008.
When the Mets play big teams, like the Phillies for example, the other team always gets the huge hit to do damage. The Mets never seem to respond.
If the Mets want to stay in games this season and have some success, they have to start getting hits with men on base. Otherwise, they'll lose a lot of games again, because it's very rare that a team is frequently blown out.
The Mets really haven't had a reliable setup reliever since 2006 when they relied on guys like Pedro Feliciano, Chad Bradford and Darren Oliver. They've tried some experiments over the years and none have seemed to work.
This season, they'll be looking for an answer once again as Feliciano was not resigned and is now with the Yankees. Another valuable pitcher from last season, Hisanori Takahashi, is gone and with the Angels. He was really versatile as a reliever and starter.
The Mets bullpen is pretty much set and with Isringhausen not making the team, it looks like Bobby Parnell will.
He has the most talent of any reliever other than Francisco Rodriguez, but there was talk the Mets wanted him to start the season in the minor leagues. Obviously they saw something this spring they disliked, but if he's on the roster, he should get the first crack at the eighth inning role.
Rule 5 pick, Pedro Beato, can also get the job after a decent spring training. In 11 appearances, he pitched to an ERA of 3.55.
There are other candidates as well, and this job will be very important. The Mets have seen too many leads slip away over the years and starters have seen nice efforts ruined because of poor eighth inning situations.
Getting the ball to Rodriguez in the ninth will be key, unless their starters are good enough every game to do so.
Mike Pelfrey has been moved up this season. He's 27-years old, and as a veteran, the Mets have made him the ace in Johan Santana's absence. That's a big deal in the big leagues and it's up to him to run with the job.
Starting Friday night in Florida, Pelfrey has to match Marlins' ace Josh Johnson inning-for-inning. He's capable of doing that and he's also capable of matching Johnson for an entire season. That's what he has to do for the Mets to have success.
In fact, if he doesn't have an "ace" type of season, the Mets will be out of it by the All-Star break. It may sound too negative being they haven't played a game yet, but it's more than true.
What do the Mets do if Pelfrey doesn't come though? Their top starter would be Jon Niese or even R.A. Dickey. Who knows how either of those two guys will pitch this season? Therefore, this is Pelfrey's season and he may be the most important Mets' player.
Last season, he won a career-high 15 games and finished with a good season. What's not in his final numbers was his awful mid-season slump. For a seven-start period in the summer, he went 2-4 with an 8.29 ERA. He recovered nicely to finish his year, but it didn't mean anything regarding playoff chances.
If the Mets want to make it this season, Pelfrey can't have that kind of stretch. It's the time in his career where he must be solid for 25 of his starts.
This may be the difference between the Mets winning 90 games and 70 games. The issue entering the offseason for the Mets was the back end of their starting rotation. With Santana out until past the All-Star break, the Mets had nothing after Pelfrey, Niese and Dickey.
New general manager Sandy Alderson signed veterans Chris Young and Chris Capuano to try and take the final two spots. It was a smart and inexpensive move and it's paid off so far.
Both guys have had unexpected spring trainings in that they've pitched to ERA of below 2.00. The Mets were hoping for them to be decent and prove they're healthy, but if what they have seen is what they'll get, a playoff berth is not out of the question.
If these two former reliable starters can make 30 starts apiece and combine for around 25 wins, the Mets would have a solid rotation. They'd be able to send a guy to the mound every night who can throw a quality start and that's huge, especially in a division where one team has four elite starters.
A lot has to happen, though, for these two to perform well. The first thing is health. Young has had his career sidetracked due to shoulder problems and Capuano has had Tommy John Surgery and a bunch of arm problems.
The other thing that has to happen is both must pitch solidly for long periods of time. The Mets are in no position to have either falter and go in a tailspin because their pitching depth just isn't there.
Once again, though, if they both turn their careers around and regain what they once had, the Mets could surprise some this season.
Everything you've read so far has to happen or get done for the Mets to have a chance to go to the playoffs. But, even if all of that does happen, one more thing must happen: the core players all have to have great seasons.
That's not an exaggeration, it's fact. If all five starters do well and the bullpen shines with no eighth inning problems, it means nothing if Jose Reyes, David Wright, and Carlos Beltran have off seasons.
The Mets need some offense, some punch, and way more than what they got last season. The Mets couldn't buy a run last season and if you don't believe it, take a look at their post-All-Star break box scores. You'll find some low numbers in the run column.
Reyes did have a decent season when he had the chance to play, Wright had a bounce-back season, and Beltran showed signs after his return from knee surgery. But, that's not enough. When a team isn't built to necessarily cruise to the playoffs, they need everything to go right and that means monster years from all three players.
Reyes has to hit .280 with 10 home runs and 100 runs scored. Wright has to hit over .300 with 25 home runs and 100 runs batted in. Beltran, if he plays around 140 games, has to hit .275 with 25 home runs and 100 runs batted in. If all of that doesn't happen, the Mets are out of luck.
Unfortunately, they've put themselves in a position where they can't close their eyes and wake up in October. They'll have to do all the little things and avoid as many mistakes as possible.
If the core does their job and everything else mentioned goes right, the Mets could make it to the playoffs. It's a lot to ask for, but you never know.