This prediction, of course, comes with qualifiers:
- Pedro Martinez must stay healthy.
- See number one.
When Petey basically pulled himself from his opening day start, it was the "uh-oh, here we go" moment that we all dread. Because while it could be an isolated incident, it could also be a hint of what everybody was warned about Pedro from the beginning. "Injury Prone". But from what I understand about "the toe", it can't really get any worse physically than what it is...it's just freakin' uncomfortable. So once "the shoe" is made that can adequately protect "the toe", then all should be well. And from the looks of Martinez's three innings of one-hit ball today, all might be well sooner than we expected.
The rest of the rotation is an interesting case. You have Tom Glavine and Steve Trachsel as the workhorses at the head of the rotation. Kris Benson and Jae Seo are gone...so the back of the rotation becomes Aaron Heilman and everybody's favorite trade disaster, Victor Zambrano. Now, how obvious is it to say that the rotation the way it is now will not end the season as it starts? Either one of two things is going to happen. Either Omar Minaya is going to make a trade, or Brian Bannister is going to step up and catch fire at the back of that rotation. Undoubtedly, Omar would prefer it to be the former, yet he would be wise to wait until the price comes down on guys like Barry Zito, or Jason Schmidt.
Run support will not be a problem for the starters, as the Mets have added none other than Carlos Delgado to play "big bat" in the middle of the lineup. The question with the lineup, as it was last year will be...the lineup. It seems that Willie Randolph will bat Paul Lo Duca second and David Wright fifth, much to the chagrin of the viewing public. But if it doesn't work, Randolph has shown a willingness to be flexible, and may change it up in the middle of the season, as he did in flip-flopping Wright and Piazza after the all star break in 2005.
Also: How will Anderson Hernandez adjust to being the everyday second baseman, and will Kaz Matsui be with the Mets forever and ever (or at least this season)? You know what has impressed me about Hernandez...during the Mets spring training rout of the Cardinals on Friday, Victor Diaz overthrew the cutoff man as Yadier Molina was trying to score on a double. But on the left side of the field backing up Jose Reyes was none other than Hernandez, who threw Molina out at the plate. Making smart, under the radar plays like that will wash away the dirt and the grime which is the memory of Matsui's fielding, which was so bad it made Doug Flynn prematurely climb into his grave so he could roll over.
But here is why I finally decided to pull a Johnny Chan and go all in with the 2006 Mets: This is quite possibly the best bullpen overall that the Mets have had in a long time. And on this point, I'm going to have to take slight umbridge (I know the spelling police is going to be all over me on that one) with Sporting News columnist Ken Rosenthal. In his blog, Rosenthal takes a shot at the Mets off-season moves:
The way to win isn't by combining breathtaking slugging and questionable pitching, a formula that again will make the Yankees formidable in the regular season but vulnerable in the playoffs. It isn't by making a series of moves at the expense of your rotation -- the way the Mets did this offseason. It isn't by spending a ton of money but still fielding a defensively flawed club, an approach that figures to doom the Blue Jays. Why are teams such as the Braves, Cardinals and Angels successful year after year? Not because they score the most runs, although their offenses usually are strong. No, they succeed because they play the game properly and rarely beat themselves.What Rosenthal has conveniently left out in his zest to prove that teams that play small ball are the teams that win, however, is that the teams he mentioned as being successful year after year also did it with strong bullpens. And all those moves that the Mets made at the expense of their rotation were made to help their bullpen. Now, here's where I go all MetsGeek on you...
In 2002, when the Angels won the World Series, their bullpen was third in all of baseball in ERA. The Braves were first, and the Cardinals were fourth. In terms of WHIP for that season, the Angels bullpen was first...Cardinals and Braves: third and fourth respectively. In 2004, the Cards were first in bullpen ERA, with the Angels and Braves fourth and fifth. The Cards were first in bullpen WHIP that season, with the Angels fourth and the Braves thirteenth. The World Champion Red Sox that season was sixth in bullpen WHIP.
The Angels were fourth in bullpen WHIP in 2005, with the Cardinals seventh. The White Sox, meanwhile, were ninth in bullpen WHIP, and fourth in bullpen ERA in their World Championship campaign. The Braves, meanwhile, plummeted in both categories with the early presence of Dan Kolb. The Mets, meanwhile, were 24th, 18th, and 20th in bullpen WHIP in the last three seasons. No coincidence that the bullpens in Anaheim and St. Louis remained for the most part stable on all counts, while the Mets bullpen was turned over frequently with rejects, has beens and never weres. Hence, this season, the Mets went and strengthened their bullpen with players in their prime such as Filthy Sanchez (who was strong as a closer in the World Baseball Tournament) Blueback Bradford, Armando Junior, and of course, Country Time Billy Wagner.
I remember the last time there was an uproar over sacrificing a part of the rotation for a bullpen piece. It happened when the Mets traded Mark Clark. In his Met tenure, Clark (22-18) had very similar stats to Kris Benson (14-12)...and actually had a lower ERA and more strikeouts in his time with the Mets. I remember that when Clark was named as one of the players to be named later in his deal, there was outrage. WFAN callers were talking about Mark Clark as if he was Walter Johnson. I mean, Clark was serviceable...but for heaven's sake he's Mark Clark! His greatest accomplishment (caution: South Park reference) was having a planet named after him...sort of.
The real outrage should have been that Mel Rojas came back in the deal.
But that Clark deal also netted the Mets a key N.L. pennant cog, one Turk Wendell, a man who was trashed for his interesting dental hygiene antics. But he was also a heck of a reliever and a clubhouse leader who stood up to the likes of Vladimir Guerrero by pitching inside.
I would say that that Clark deal was a chance worth taking, much like the Kris Benson and Jae Seo deals are chances worth taking, whether they work out or not. (Besides, if Jorge Julio doesn't work out, we can always blame Anna.)
So there it is. The Mets are the pick. And don't think the fact that my Final Four picks have been officially shot to hell doesn't scare me as being a notion that I shouldn't make predictions like this anymore...but I can't very well go to Shea Stadium on Opening Day...can't look on as Jesse Orosco throws the first pitch of the season to Gary Carter...and know that I picked the mortal enemy to win the division. Maybe if this wasn't the 20th anniversary, I can live with myself.
But not this year. Prediction: first place.