By Ed Coleman
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Better than anticipated. That should be the end result for the 2011 New York Mets – if things go right, and if enough bodies stay healthy long enough through a grueling season.
It’s probably not a good sign that the day Carlos Beltran finally re-entered the starting lineup this spring, Jason Bay exited it with a strained rib cage muscle that will send him to the disabled list to begin the season. But the team’s attitude under new manager Terry Collins has been refreshing – whether that’s enough to overcome some talent obstacles remains to be seen.
The biggest question to me is this – last year, Mike Pelfrey was asked to step up and become a No. 2 behind Johan Santana in the Mets rotation. This year, Pelfrey is tabbed to go from No. 2 to the ace in Santana’s absence. Is it too much too soon for the big fella? Pelfrey had his usual sub-par spring, going 1-2 with a 5.62 ERA. Last season, he broke out of the gate 9-1 and ended up with 15 wins. Can he match that or come close? An awful lot to ask.
The keys may very well be R.A. Dickey and Jonathan Niese. The knuckleballer seems poised for a big year, and the Mets may need him to duplicate 2010 or exceed it. Niese has to continue to mature, and he did rack up 23 strikeouts in 25 innings this spring.
The reclamation Chrises – Young and Capuano – were terrific in Florida. Even counting a shaky last start on Wednesday, Young pitched to a 1.78 ERA during the spring and his shoulder appears strong. And Capuano went 3-0 with a 1.93 ERA. But can you get 55 starts out of a back end of your rotation that has come nowhere near that the last couple of years. Tough to ask.
There is some depth with Jenrry Mejia, Dillon Gee and Boof Bonser at Triple-A – and that Santana guy is out there somewhere waiting to return, hopefully sooner rather than the expected later.
Closer Francisco Rodriguez is pitching like it’s June, not April. He’s looked like an All-Star already. Will he see 55 games finished during the season to trigger his $17.5 million option for 2012? Not likely.
Getting the ball to Frankie is another story. Bobby Parnell has been up and down this spring, and D.J. Carrasco has been disappointing with a 5.19 ERA.
It may depend on how the Killer B’s fare – Taylor Buchholz, Blaine Boyer, Pedro Beato and Tim Byrdak. Buchholz looked revitalized with 15 scoreless innings, Boyer gets ground balls, Beato is young with a wealth of talent, and Byrdak hurled 9 scoreless frames.
Having just one lefty in the pen in the NL East, though, can be a recipe for disaster. And Jason Isringhausen – with his experience, teaching ability and sense of humor – would really help in my estimation.
David Wright is peaking at the right time, and looks ready to lead this group into the season. After an 0-12 start to the spring, Wright batted .462 (18-39) with 5 doubles, 3 HR and a team-high 14 RBI.
Jose Reyes lifted his average from .148 to .281 over the last two weeks. He needs more walks (3) and a better OBP (.317), but he’s healthy and playing a great shortstop.
After a dreadful start, Brad Emaus came on to hit .294 with a .400 OBP. And Ike Davis had 13 RBI and flashed a great glove at 1B. The infield defense has to remain strong – this pitching staff is not a strikeout bunch, so extra outs can’t be given away.
Carlos Beltran is swinging a great bat, but can his weakened knees allow him to remain in the lineup on a fairly regular basis. It’s a huge question.
Angel Pagan must stay healthy, for he will have to cover a lot of ground in center field helping out whoever is to his right and left. Pagan’s speed at the top of the lineup and also on the bases is essential as well.
With Jason Bay sidelined at the start, Lucas Duda will get some chances to prove he can be the run-producer everyone feels he can be. And when Bay returns, will his power return with him? Bay did not homer this spring, and had only 6 last season before his concussion KO’d him.
Josh Thole keeps getting better, both offensively and in handling a pitching staff. Thole hit .375 this spring with 3 HR, 7 RBI and a .417 OBP. Getting proper rest for Thole in this his first full major league season behind the plate is imperative, and that could be a problem.
Mike Nickeas is strictly defense, and who knows about Ronny Paulino, sidelined with both an 8-game suspension and stomach problems to begin the season. Thole can handle things, but only if he paces himself properly.
GM Sandy Alderson struck gold with reserve outfielders Scott Hairston and Willie Harris.
Hairston showed terrific power with 4 HR and 12 RBI while batting .345. And Harris was equally as good, blasting 3 HR with 10 RBI and a team-high by far 12 walks. They can both play all three outfield positions.
The Mets moved Daniel Murphy all over the place, trying to find possible spots to include his bat in the lineup – Murphy responded with 10 RBI and hit .308. Chin-lung Hu will back up at SS and can fill defensively at 2B if needed, and will undoubtedly be a fan favorite with the predictable “Who are You” and “Who’s on First” stuff.
As I said, better than anticipated. 3rd in the N.L. East, with a strong run at 2nd if all things come together and health prevails. There are large ifs, to be sure.
And perhaps the hardest thing to judge at this juncture with this team is this – will Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran or Frankie Rodriguez — or maybe all three — still be with this club after the trading deadline on July 31? Makes a little bit of a difference, don’t you think?
C U in Miami on Friday
What’s your projection for the 2011 Mets? Sound off in the comments below…