I was a little bummed to go onto Metsblog today to see that Rich Coutinho had stole my thunder by saying he thinks the Mets are an 85 win team. Right now I have them penciled in for 85 wins minimum with a chance for a little more and a possible wild card push.
Last year the Mets had a season where they under performed and still managed to have a season where they won 79 games and based off Pythagorean W-L should have 81 wins. There are plenty of reasons I see the Mets improving that number by at least six wins for 2011.
It all starts with the improved pitching staff put together by Sandy Alderson. Just take a quick look at some of the names that saw significant time in the rotation last year. In case you forgot the opening day rotation consisted of Johan Santana, Mike Pelfrey, Jonathan Niese, Oliver Perez, and John Maine. The first three are solid, but the last two might as well not be in the major leagues.
Last year Oliver Perez received seven starts. In those stats the Mets went 1-6. Not surprising by any means. An even crazier stat regarding Ollie P is that in the 17 games he appeared in the Mets went 1-16. If there was ever a player that was an addition by subtraction Perez is it. Your team doesn't just happen to have that poor of a record in games you pitched in by accident.
Then there was the nine games started by John Maine we had to suffer through. Maine was able to reach the sixth inning just three times in those games, putting great tax on the bullpen during his games who had to eat a lot of innings. I like Maine, but an ERA in the sixes just does not cut it from a major league starter.
While this guy did a spectacular job out of the pen for the Mets, Hisanori Takahashi had twelve starts for the Mets and wasn't very good. His ERA out of the pen was 2.04 then he made the switch and posted a 5.01 in the rotation. Like Maine he failed to go deep into games averaging 5.1 innings per start. This had a double negative effect on the Mets, as now they needed to eat innings with the pen and possibly their best reliever was not available.
Yes losing out on 29 starts from Santana is going to be a killer, but there is still hope he will be back at some point this year. The Mets now get a full year out of R.A. Dickey, Niese is no longer a rookie who knows what to expect, and Chris Young and Chris Capuano in the last two spots is solid enough back-end of the rotation for any team. There will be concerns if Niese, Young, and Capuano can hold up for the whole season, but for now we'll assume they will be healthy until they give us a reason to believe they won't. Even though the top dog is out the rotation as a whole is more solid with five capable pitchers.
To go along with the rotation Alderson has put together a bullpen that should not be guffawed at. As this article at Fangraphs points out the Mets bullpen has become a strength of the team. If the spring Frankie Rodriguez and Blaine Boyer had are any indication of how they will pitch in 2011, the pen could be even better than what is already expected of them. If Manny Acosta clears waivers having him, Jason Isringhausen, Pat Misch, and a couple of good relief prospects in AAA provides the Mets with better pitchers to be called up than Fernando Nieves and Raul Valdeses of the world if need be.
Is 85 wins reasonable for the Mets?
I almost laughed when looking at some of the names on the opening day lineup and roster from last year. Rod Barajas, Luis Castillo, Jeff Francoeur, GARY MATTHEWS JR., Fernando Tatis, Frank Catalanotto, and Henry Blanco. Just looking at these names it makes me sad my favorite team trotted those players on the field and shows just how bad of a GM Omar Minaya was.
Being the biggest Brad Emaus fan boy around, throwing him in at second base and Carlos Beltran in at right field gives the Mets a much more complete offensive lineup that will actually pose a threat for opposing pitchers. When dealing with a healthy lineup just take a look at the top names. Jose Reyes, Angel Pagan, David Wright, Beltran, Jason Bay, and Ike Davis. That is a very formidable top six players and even above-average for a National League team. As of right now I am not too concerned with Bay's injury which plays a big factor in my prediction.
There is a whole new feel for this team with all the changes. Outside of the Madoff situation, which is a problem with the owners, everything has been smooth sailing since the reigns have been handed off to Alderson. He has been playing all his cards right with player personnel, the relationship with the fans, and team personnel.
When the Mets fired Willie Randolph they replaced him with someone who had been part of the collapse, part of Randolph's coaching staff, and had a similar style to Randolph. Nothing seemed to change except for the name of the man filling out the scorecard. Terry Collins provides a completely different attitude. Not every team can deal with a personality as fiery as his, but if the team gets off to a good start they can rally behind Collins and his style.
The final reason the Mets will shock everyone is that there is absolutely no pressure on this team. The Las Vegas lines have the Mets as a 74 win team, Sports Illustrated has them finishing dead last in the NL East, and anyone I have spoken to seems to think they will go no where. Anyone who has played in a sport can tell you when the expectations are lower everything becomes so much easier. There is no where for them to go, but up from here. The era of the Mets collapses are over.