The New York Mets open the 2011 regular season tonight against the Florida Marlins with Mike Pelfrey set to oppose Josh Johnson.
Heading into this season, the Mets have a lot of questions that need answers. Can the rotation step up without their ace, Johan Santana. Will Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran stay healthy? How will the bullpen perform without Pedro Feliciano, their most reliable reliever last season?
We'll start to get those answers tonight.
That said, here is your Mets 2011 season preview.
Jason Bay starting the season on the DL with a rib injury isn't a good sign. Willie Harris will get the start tonight in left field, batting second and pushing centerfielder Angel Pagan to the fifth spot in the batting order.
Jose Reyes, entering possibly his final season with the Mets will be in his customary leadoff spot, and as all Mets fans know, as Reyes goes, so go the Mets. Last season, Reyes played in 133 games, batted .282 with 11 home runs, 83 runs scored and 30 stolen bases.
When Reyes is healthy, he's one of the most electrifying players in baseball. This season, he'll have to be if the Mets want to contend. David Wright had a great season in 2010, coming back to hit 29 home runs after hitting just 10 the year before. Along with Carlos Beltran and Jason Bay, Wright is the centerpiece of the Mets lineup.
Bay is eligible to come off the DL on April 9, so hopefully manager Terry Collins won't have to wait any longer than that, but right now, fans need to cross their fingers. Once Bay returns, Reyes and Pagan will form an excellent one, two punch of speed and on-base percentage.
Rule 5 pick Brad Emaus is the most intriguing player heading into this season. A relative unknown, Emaus earned the second base job after the Mets released Luis Castillo and Daniel Murphy and Justin Turner failed to impress Collins in spring training. Along with catcher Josh Thole, the Mets will have one of the best offenses in the National League if they can stay healthy.
Mike Pelfrey steps in as the Mets No. 1 starter in the absence of Santana, who continues his way back from shoulder surgery. Last season, Pelfrey has the best season of his career, finishing the season 15-9 with a 3.66 ERA. He was amazing in the first half, starting out 10-2 with a 2.68 ERA, but he faded in the second half, posting an ugly 10.02 ERA in the month of July.
Jon Niese enters as the No. 2 pitcher in the rotation. In his first full season, Niese threw a career-high 173.2 innings, finishing 9-10 with a 4.20 ERA. He led the team in strikeouts with 148.
R.A. Dickey was one of the best parts of the Mets 2010 campaign. After failing to make the team out of spring training, Dickey was called up in May and was more than impressive, leading the team with a 2.84 ERA in 26 starts. A full season from Dickey should give the Mets a formidable front of the rotation.
Rounding things out, reclamation projects Chris Young and Chris Capuano look to restart their careers. Both have been dominant pitchers in the past, but have had to battle injuries in recent years. Young made just four starts for the San Diego Padres last season, finishing 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA. In spring training, Young won two games and posted a 1.84 ERA.
If he can stay healthy, Young could be the best offseason addition made by any team this offseason, and that includes the Philadelphia Phillies and Boston Red Sox.
Capuano missed all of the 2008 and 2009 seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery. He hasn't made a full season's worth of starts since 2007. In 2005, Capuano won 18 games for the Milwaukee Brewers, finishing with a 3.99 ERA.
If the Mets can get 50 starts total out of Young and Capuano, the rotation will certainly be a strong point. And if the Mets can stay near the top of the division until Santana returns, they can make a late push and perhaps capture a wild-card spot.
The bullpen is an area of strength for the Mets this season, as it was last year. The biggest difference is the loss of Pedro Feliciano, who made a league-high 92 appearances for the Mets last season. The reliable lefty is replaced by Tim Byrdak this season, tasked mainly with keeping the big left-handed bats of the NL East in check. Collins decided against carrying two lefty relievers, so we'll see if that decision works out or hurts the Mets down the line.
Blaine Boyer, Taylor Buchholz, D.J. Carrasco and Bobby Parnell will form the path to closer Francisco Rodriguez. Parnell will serve as the Mets eighth inning man, but Buchholz could also see time in that role.
Parnell was excellent last season, posting a 2.83 ERA in 35 innings. If Rodriguez is not with the Mets next season, Parnell seems poised to take over the closer's duties.
Buchholz is another of the Mets low risk/high reward additions this offseason. In 2008, Buchholz was excellent for the Colorado Rockies, throwing 66.1 innings of relief and posting a 2.17 ERA. Since then, Buchholz hasn't quite been able to put those kind of numbers together again, mainly because of injuries, but if he can find that success again, he could be the best reliever in the Mets bullpen.
The Mets are in a tricky situation with closer Francisco Rodriguez. If he finishes, not saves, 55 games, his $17.5 million option for 2012 will vest, leaving the Mets on the hook for a lot of money. The MLB has already visited general manager Sandy Alderson, who assured them the team will not try to prevent K-Rod from vesting his option. If the Mets are contending, the might not be able to avoid it. If they fall out of it, K-Rod could be one of the players the Mets will look to deal.
K-Rod was excellent in spring training and seems to be in midseason form already.
The Mets have a lot of versatility and power on this bench this season. Lefty Daniel Murphy was a lock to make this team in some capacity when spring training began. He was a contender for the starting second base job, and though he hit very well, his defense proved to be an issue. Murphy will serve as an excellent pinch hitter and is also capable of starting at three different infield positions and the outfield.
Scott Hairston and Willie Harris are both excellent additions to the team. Hairston showed a lot of pop in spring training, leading the team with four home runs. Harris is best known for his excellent defense, making a habit out of robbing the Mets in the last few seasons. He'll get the start in left field tonight with Jason Bay on the DL.
Chin-Lung Hu will be the Mets versatile defense infielder, able to play both shortstop and second base. Backup catcher Ronny Paulino will serve the remaining eight games of his 50-game suspension handed out last season for performance enhancing drugs. Mike Nickeas will take his place until he can return.
With Bay on the disabled list, the Mets added Lucas Duda to the 25-man roster. Though Harris gets the start tonight, Duda will get the majority of the play while Bay recovers. A September call up last season, Duda started his major league career in a 1-for-33 slump, but finished the season 16-for-52 (.307 BA) with four home runs.
The Mets are a team that, if they can stay healthy and get solid production, the Mets can surprise some people. Almost nobody is picking the Mets to make much noise this season mainly thanks to the questions surrounding their finances. If the Mets find themselves out of contention this season, guys like Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran, both of whom are entering their final seasons under contract, may find themselves on the trading block.
On the opposite side, if Reyes has a good season, he could become too expensive for the Mets to resign.
With the strides made by the Phillies, Braves and Florida Marlins, the NL East is a tough division. "Health" will be the key word for the Mets all season, but I think they'll get solid production from their starting rotation, especially Chris Young, as well as bounce back seasons from Bay, Reyes and Beltran. Throw in a solid bullpen and the Mets should be in good shape.
2011 record: 83-79, fourth in the NL East