2005-04-01 / Sports

Will The New Mets Make Fans Believe They Are Contenders?

By Michael Avallone Sports Columnist

By Michael Avallone
Sports Columnist

It’s time to play ball. Only a few short days from now, Jose Reyes will step in against the Reds Paul Wilson to kick off what the Mets hope will be a very successful 2005 season. Can the Mets return to the playoffs for the first time since 2000? Or will Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez flop in their Big Apple debuts? Only time will tell, but for now, the Mets are in first place in the NL East….

INFIELD

It’ll be great news for Kaz Matsui, Reyes and David Wright that they will be able to rely on first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz, a former Gold Glove winner with the Minnesota Twins. His experience should keep the errors to a minimum.

Reyes is back at his original position of shortstop, a place that he never should have left to begin with. Of course, health is the biggest concern with the 21-year old. He’ll also serve as the leadoff hitter (to begin) and if his legs are right, he could easily provide 45+ steals.

Matsui is expected to follow Reyes in the lineup and again be his double play partner…only this time at second. Although there are concerns on how he’ll handle the DP pivot, all indications so far have been positive. As for his offense, expect a slight bump in numbers from 2004, but he needs to cut down on his strikeouts (99 last year).

The hot corner at Shea may finally have a permanent tenant. With Wright manning the position, the club has what it hopes to be its franchise third baseman. In only 69 games last season, the Virginia native hit .293 with 14 homers and 40 RBI. Even more important, Wright did not look overmatched in his first taste of the bigs.

Entering the final year of his $91 million contract, Piazza, the future Hall of Famer, has struggled with injuries the last two years. He calls a decent game and of course, if he knocks 30 balls into the bleachers, the Mets will live with whatever throwing problems he encounters this year.

OUTFIELD

After patching together an outfield mostly devoid of power since the late ‘90s, the trio of Cliff Floyd, Beltran and Mike Cameron could be the Mets best since the McReynolds, Dykstra, Strawberry days. Cameron wasn’t happy about moving to right but seems to have accepted the move. If he can give the Mets what he did last year (30 HR 22 SB), the team will be ecstatic.

Of course, all of the focus is on the new face of the Mets, no. 15 in centerfield. It remains to be seen how Beltran’s first taste of the big city will sit with him, but the Mets (and their fans) expect a lot out of their new $119 million man. He may not put up last year’s power numbers (38 HR), but a .290 30 105 35 season is well within reach. At the very least, his mere presence in the three-hole of New York’s lineup is an upgrade.

Floyd’s career in New York has been disappointing, to say the least. Injuries have held him to 108 and 113 games the last two years; not what New York had in mind when they signed him to a four-year, $26 million pact. If healthy, Floyd could easily reach 25 HR and 90 RBIs. That’s a big if….

STARTING ROTATION

The acquisition of Pedro Martinez gives the club a legitimate No. 1 starter for the first time in years. In a down season (by his standards), Pedro still won 16 games and struck out 227 batters during his 33 starts for the World Champion Red Sox. Moving back to the NL and in a pitchers park in Shea Stadium, could mean big things are in store for the Martinez and the Mets. He may not win another Cy Young award, but 17-18 wins and an ERA below three should be attainable.

If anything, the signing of Martinez takes the pressure off of Glavine. At 39 years old, Glavine no longer has to bear the burden of being the ace of the staff, though his two-year record of 20-28 hardly justifies the large contract the Mets gave him two years ago.

The Mets took a lot of flak for signing Benson to a four-year, $22.5 million deal, and rightfully so. The former no. 1 overall pick has done little to warrant that type of contract, After going 12-12 last year, Benson may finally be poised for a breakout season. He has been impressive this spring, keeping his pitches down looking much more like a top pick should look.

Poor Victor Zambrano. Unless he wins the Cy Young Award or leads the Mets to a World Series title, he will be forever known as the pitcher former New York prospect Scott Kazmir was traded for. Zambrano does have electric stuff, but his wildness often leads to short outings and frustrating results.

Ishii, 31, was 13-8 last year with the Dodgers. Unfortunately, he is just as erratic as Zambrano in walking 98 in 172 innings. That type of production from the 4-5 starters could spell trouble for the bullpen. Still, Ishii has shown flashes of dominance and the Mets could do a lot worse in the fifth spot.

BULLPEN

This could be New York’s biggest problem. Aside from closer Braden Looper and Mike DeJean, nothing is set in the Mets bullpen. Felix Heredia will probably make the team as the primary lefty because of his guaranteed contract for ’05. The former Yankee had his inability to get lefties out in key situations left him in manager Joe Torre’s doghouse. As for the other spots, well, not even manager Willie Randolph knows yet. Heath Bell, Royce Ring, Korean, Dae Sung Koo, Bartolome Fortunato and Mike Matthews all remain in the hunt for the final spots.

In the NL East, where 88-90 wins could claim the title, the Mets could go either way. If everything breaks right, 90 wins isn’t out of the question, but a much more realistic expectation is 83-85. Of course, the bullpen could implode, Pedro and Beltran could flop and Randolph may wish he was still across the Triborough Bridge. Let’s play ball!!!

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