Saturday, March 19, 2011

Spring Training Spotlight: New York Mets

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-Digger's Daily-

Is there any magic left in Flushing? The ugliness known as the New York Mets has been well documented in blogs of mine. I've reserved nearly all vitriolic editorials squarely at management. By the way, Mets hierarchy and partners received yet another jolt Friday. The Madoff trustee assigned to recoup victims funds upped the ante to one billion dollars citing too cozy of a relationship between the parties. Plenty of suitors will be ready, willing and able for a shot at purchasing the Mets. Wilpon's have destroyed a proud franchise dragging it down to a laughingstock among those of us paying attention. Bad contracts, Madoff accusations, CitiField, minors in shambles, off field distractions, receiving operating loans from MLB and the list goes on. It's time for this crew to suck it up and step aside.

Enough of the sideshow. Let's talk Mets baseball. Leading off with their negatives. Carlos Beltran cannot be counted on contributing again. His knee is shot. Lost CF duties and can't even suit up to get comfortable in RF. He's done. It's not 2B for recently cut Luis Castillo. A talented player looked lost as a Met. Can Jose Reyes remain healthy for a change? He's a vital key to New York's attack. His certain all star career status has tarnished via considerable time spent on disabled lists. Southpaw supreme Santana's injury rehab has come under microscopic scrutiny of late. Rumors suggesting serious setbacks have been flatly denied by Mets brass never known for preaching truths. Mets bonus babies spent more time off the field than on. Pedro Martinez, Mo Vaughn, Carlos Delgado, Jason Bay, Jose Reyes, Luis Castillo, Johann Santana and then last season's blowup by closer Rodriguez.

Is anyone out there expecting New York to succeed on any meaningful level in 2011? Mets players know the answer. No. This is New York's greatest strength. No one will see them coming. Mets have a great shot at a hot start setting the tone for determining 2011 baseball. Laugh if you must. Yes, they're an admitted long shot and I'm not jumping on their bandwagon yet. Just consider this....

Starting rotation puts fear into nobody. Starters would be wise to use this to their advantage when hitters aren't expecting much of a challenge. Good pitching wins games. Mets pitchers have given away a ton of games by not throwing strikes. Walks, hit batters, wild pitches and balks all contributed to failures. Mike Pelfrey, Jonathon Niese, R.A. Dickey and Chris Young are starters 1 through 4. Not household names by any means. But, they're good. If they can keep counts in their favor, avoid walks, throw strikes and get a solid dose of defense.... ? ? ?

Offense never found consistent rhythm in '10 largely due to injuries. They're supposed to be healthy and ready to resume doing what they do best. All eyes are on the new 2B competition. Castillo was cut opening the door for Luis Hernandez and Justin Turner to compete to become New York's newest second sacker. Reyes, Bay and team leader Wright are their most recognizable national names. Locally, fans should be confident Angel Pagan is quite capable of handling CF. 1B Ike Davis will be a mainstay for many years to come. Biggest question marks are 2B and C. Can Thole and Nickeas handle the load of playing everyday and managing an unproven pitching staff? Mets lineup has the ingredients to create havoc. Like I said earlier.. what makes this team dangerous is nobody expecting them to play well. Hitters might get lucky enough to see better pitches (challenged more often). Mets must capitalize on nearly every run producing situation if they're to have any shot at challenging for playoff possibilities.

There's a new sheriff in town going by the name of Manager Collins. He laid the law down early. 2011 is about on-field productions. Not off field distractions (guaranteed to be plentiful). Captain David Wright made a bold statement on day one of spring training. It's an old phrase with heavy importance for teammates. "Put up or shut up!" By all reasonable estimates, I pin New York's season on being lucky enough to squeak out 70-75 wins. A hot April start could quickly turn losers into believers. There's talent to be found but it must be a team effort. Hitting and running. Good outs which advance runners vs an over abundance of worthless strikeouts. Pitchers must throw strikes and stay ahead of hitters. Pretty much the same philosophy every manager attempts to drill into players heads. Mets have to want it more.

In my book, Mets starting rotation is the single biggest key. NL East is loaded with some the leagues best hurlers. Halladay, Oswalt, Lee, Hamels, Hudson, Hanson and Johnson. Time for Pelfrey, Niese, Dickey and Young to step up and deliver career years. Look for the Mets to be baseball's biggest trade deadline seller's if they fall behind early. Bay & Reyes will be easiest to unload. Wright doesn't want to go. Seaver didn't either so anything's possible. A slow beginning will assure this club of 90+ losses. A long April win streak could transform the New York Mets into baseball's uplifting story of the year. Time will tell.


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