Led by 23-year-old David Wright and 22-year-old Jose Reyes, the Mets were one win away from the 2006 World Series. With young core players like Wright and Reyes, the Mets looked to have a very bright future, many feeling that they would make the playoffs for years to come.
However, one Yadier Molina home run and one wicked 12-6 Adam Wainwright curveball later, Carlos Beltran and the Mets went down looking. The Game 7 loss to the Cardinals in the NLCS was the last time New York played a playoff game. Since then, the Mets have suffered two historic September collapses and have also failed to make the playoffs the next two seasons.
2011, however, begins a brand new era, and a fresh start. Although many aren’t picking the Mets to have a good season this year, New York can silence the doubters and make the playoffs if a number of things happen.
Here are 10 things the Mets need to make it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2006.
Jason Bay after suffering a concussion that would end his season
The past two seasons at Citi Field have seen the Mets ravaged by injuries.
2009 saw more than 11 players go on the disabled list, as the team finished the season with 70 wins and 92 losses. 2010 also had its fair share of injuries as key players like Jason Bay, Carlos Beltran, Johan Santana, Francisco Rodriguez, and Jose Reyes all spent time on the DL.
As is the case for the other 29 teams in the league, health is the most important factor in whether or not the Mets will contend. If every player is healthy, the Mets have a pretty good shot at making the playoffs either as a Wild Card or National League East winner.
The opening day roster does not include Jason Bay, but he is expected to be back for the Mets home opener against the Nationals. Fans should not be too worried because no other team in the National League has a better lineup from 1-6 than a healthy Mets offense.
Jose Reyes, Angel Pagan, David Wright, Ike Davis, Carlos Beltran, and Jason Bay constitute the Mets lineup at full strength. The lineup contains power, speed, average, patience, and is balanced between left-handed hitters, right-handed players, and switch-hitters. This lineup has the potential to do a lot of damage if all of the players stay on the field.
It is also important that the starting pitching remains healthy as the Mets are already down a two-time Cy Young Award winner. The pitching was better than expected last year with New York having the seventh-best team ERA at 3.73. The pitching needs to perform like it did last season and therefore needs to stay healthy.
When Citi Field opened in 2009, no one knew how the field would play. Much to the dismay of Mets power hitters, the cavernous Citi Field took away a lot of home runs. A very unique stadium, visiting teams find the place difficult to play in because of its huge dimensions, high walls, and tricky caroms off the angled outfield fences.
It took the Mets a while to get accustomed to their home field, but now that they are familiar with how the stadium plays, they need to use it to their advantage.
New York must make Citi Field a true home field advantage. Players need to stop trying to hit home runs every time up at-bat, and instead aim for the large gaps in right and left-center field.
It is all about speed when playing in Flushing, so the Mets need to steal bases when on base, forcing pitchers to throw fastballs.
The park is a doubles and triples haven which plays to the Mets strengths. Jose Reyes, Angel Pagan, David Wright, and Carlos Beltran need to use their speed in order to hit doubles and triples.
Defense is also a big part of playing at Citi Field. Outfielders have to cover a lot of space and recognize the bounces off the walls. Many defensively challenged teams such as the Marlins and Braves have a tough time dealing with these sorts of things, but, when healthy, the Mets have a talented defensive outfield of Pagan, Beltran, and Bay.
Pitching in Citi Field is another key to how the team does this season. There is no cheap home run when a player hits one out this stadium. Mets pitchers need to recognize this and challenge hitters to swing. Fly ball pitchers like Chris Young and Jon Niese need to pitch to contact and let Citi Field do the rest. Walks are unacceptable here, so Mets pitchers need to be aggressive.
Building a team around a ballpark is very common these days. The Minnesota Twins field a good pitching and defensive team in a big stadium, much like the Padres and Giants. The Mets need to do the same and they will enjoy similar success.
Mets opening their 2011 season in Florida
It goes without saying that teams have to start the season off on a good note every year, but for the 2011 Mets, it is especially important. If they want to make a statement, they need start the season strong, as 18 of their first 28 games are divisional games.
After starting the season in Miami, the Mets go to Philadelphia to take on the Phillies, and then play in their home opener against the Nationals. They also have to travel to Atlanta, Washington, and Philadelphia by the time May rolls around.
One thing is for sure, it is make or break for the Mets early on. If they get off to a rough start, it will be very difficult to make up ground in the competitive NL East. On the flipside, the Mets can win over New York if they win a lot of games in April.
Nowadays, the setup man is a much valued player for teams who have a dominant closer. The eighth inning man is the bridge to the closer and holds the lead for the team until the closer comes into the game.
The J.J. Putz experiment in 2009 failed miserably and ever since, they have searched for another reliever to take the job. The question this year is who will hand the ball off to K-Rod.
Terry Collins has decided to go with hard-throwing youngster Bobby Parnell over D.J. Carrasco and Taylor Buchholz. There will be a number of close games in 2011, and in the eighth, Parnell needs to shut the door. If he throws his usual 96 mile per hour fast ball and mixes in a few off-speed pitches, Parnell can be tough to hit.
When the bullpen imploded in 2007 and 2008, the Mets seasons ended in disappointment. Bullpen meltdowns have cost the team many games in the past, and they cannot afford to blow leads in the late innings this year. Bobby Parnell has a very important role as setup man and needs to perform.
2011 is a year which sees the likes of Carlos Beltran, Francisco Rodriguez, and Jose Reyes playing for a 2012 contract. From Adrian Beltre to Cliff Lee, history shows that players step up their game when money is at stake. We have seen Beltran have MVP-type seasons, K-Rod put up 62 saves, and flashes of brilliance from Jose Reyes. The talent is there, but whether or not they will deliver is the question.
If Reyes plays the way he is capable of playing, he is a very dynamic player. He can steal bases, hit for power, field his position, and energize the Mets. He is the spark plug that ignites this team. When he plays well, the team wins games.
Carlos Beltran is a five-tool player. He is a three-time gold glove winner, all in his time with the Mets. He can also steal bases and even has one of the highest stolen base percentages in baseball because of his patience and selectiveness. There is no doubt he can hit home runs and drive in runs. He just needs to prove it by having a great season.
Francisco Rodriguez has an option with the team for next season, but the feeling is that he probably won’t be back next year. K-Rod holds the all-time single season save record and is a top 10 closer in the league. When he gets a lead, he needs to be the dominant closer that he was in Anaheim.
Also worth mentioning is Chris Young and Chris Capuano are on one-year deals with the Mets. They would love to have a breakout season coming off injuries. Any contribution that they make will be a positive one if the Mets want to make the playoffs.
One thing the Mets lacked the last year couple of years was intensity. Jerry Manuel and Willie Randolph weren’t intense managers that showed very much emotion. They were laid back, reserved managers in a town with passionate fans. This year they have a fiery manager in Terry Collins who will not accept anything less than 100 percent from his team.
If the Mets plan on making the playoffs, they need to play Terry Collins baseball. That means playing hard-nosed baseball, fighting back when they are down, and showing heart.
The team needs an identity. Much like Charlie Manuel brought to the “Fightin’ Phils”, Collins needs his team to play with the same grit and intensity as the Mets bitter NL East rivals.
It doesn’t take talent to play hard and be a pesky team. It just takes character and determination. Hardworking teams don’t like losing and want to play hard each and every game no matter if they are injured, tired, or slumping. It is the right attitude to have if you need to fight and claw your way to the playoffs which the Mets have to do.
The Mets were dealt a huge blow when they found out their ace Johan Santana would be out until late June/early July. Santana is one of the best pitchers in baseball when he is healthy, but the Mets will have to find a way to win without him.
Mike Pelfrey will have to elevate himself from a 1-a type pitcher to an ace for the time being. Last season he had a great year, finishing 15-9 with a 3.66 ERA. At the All-Star break, he looked like the ace of the Mets staff when he went 10-2, with a 2.93 ERA.
They will need him to be the ace of the staff and go up against other teams’ aces. As Pelfrey began to falter after the All-Star break last season, so did the Mets. The success of the Mets in 2011 hinges on whether Pelfrey can hold down the fort until Santana returns
If the Mets hang around until at least July, they might get Santana back and can make a run at the playoffs.
Good hitting gets a team to the playoffs, but pitching is what wins playoff games. It doesn’t matter if you have the best hitting lineup in baseball. If a team’s starting pitching struggles, it is hard to win consistently. While hitting comes and goes, pitching needs to be good game in and game out.
In addition to Pelfrey moving up in the rotation, the other starters have to move up a spot as well. R.A. Dickey needs to repeat his performance last season when he was New York’s best pitcher the second half of the year, finishing with 11 wins and a 2.84 ERA. He will need to prove that it wasn’t a fluke. Teams now have tape of him and they just might have figured out Dickey and his dancing knuckler. Dickey now has to live up to expectations.
Jon Niese has to become the pitcher everyone thinks he can be. He needs to use his 12-6 curveball more, along with his newly developed cutter, in order to improve against righties.
Coming off injuries, Chris Young and Chris Capuano also need to contribute if the Mets want to make the playoffs. Young was an All-Star in 2007 and is a fly ball pitcher in the cavernous Citi Field. Capuano has had some good seasons in Milwaukee, and if both stay healthy, they can win some games for the Mets this season.
One of the biggest problems the Mets faced last year was getting clutch hits. Guys like David Wright, Jose Reyes, and Angel Pagan struggled with men in scoring position. Overall, Wright struck out 161 times, and he hit .260 with runners in scoring position in the middle of the order.
New York needs to drive in those runs when the game is on the line. Too many times last season the Mets could not get a two-out RBI when it was much needed. In addition, this team needs to put teams away by breaking games open with insurance runs.
If they get timely hits, this team can gain a lot of confidence and win a lot more games than they did last season.
It never hurts to have a little bit of luck, no matter how good a team you are.
Maybe a few bounces will go the Mets way, or a few calls might go in their favor this year. Luck is something you have no control of, and will play a role in how other teams in the Mets' division will perform. The Phillies did their part by winning games in September of 2007 and 2008, but they were very fortunate that the Mets collapsed.
The past few years this team has had very little luck, but now they will look to make up for all of the bad breaks that came their way in the past.