By Rich Coutinho
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The National League may experience a power shortage in 2012 as two of the biggest bats the league possessed — Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols have cleaned out their lockers and are headed for the junior circuit. Add in the fact that Ryan Braun will miss the season’s first 5o games and Ryan Howard’s skills might be diminished by a ruptured Achilles (at least in the short-term) you realize the National League has lost a lot of thump. And this is good news for the Mets who – quite frankly – have as many potential power bats in their lineup as any team in the league with the exception of the Cardinals and the Reds.
Think about it — a healthy Ike Davis, the continued progress of Lucas Duda and David Wright benefiting from the New CitiField dimensions and you potentially have a pretty good trio of power bats compared to some of the other lineups in the league. And we have not even considered a bounce back year from Jason Bay yet. As much as the Marlins have improved, they will be hoping Mike Stanton continues his rise to star status as much as the Mets are expecting a big year from Ike Davis. The Nationals? They will need both Ryan Zimmerman AND Jayson Werth to have big power years and if the Phils lose Ryan Howard, they will be hoping the duo of Chase Utley and Hunter Pence will carry the lunch until Howard returns to healthy status. The Braves? Brian McCann and Dan Uggla seem to be the only givens for big power numbers.
To me the only two lineups that I think can be relied upon for heavy power in the NL are the Cardinals–Beltran and Holliday and the Reds with Votto, Phillips, and Bruce. The point I am making here is starting pitchers will not be navigating through power laden lineups night after night like pitchers will in the American League. As a consequence, I think good starting pitching can get you through the schedule. And I stress the word “good” meaning it does not have to be great. Now don’t get me wrong teams like the Mets will still need a healthy Santana and a couple of other things to go right like a rebound year from Pelfrey and solid pitching from R.A. Dickey as well as the continued development of Jonathan Niese.
But the thing that will separate teams will be the consistency of their bullpen which will make the Phils, Marlins, and Braves tough to beat but if the Mets reconfigured bullpen gives Terry Collins a blueprint to take over last two or three innings of a game, the Mets might be better than people think. My theory on bullpens has always been they make or break your season. A good one can cover up many weaknesses such as the inability to score tack-on runs or the fact your starting pitchers can not pitch deep in games. On the other hand, a poor bullpen can take every blemish of a team and make it an eyesore like a poor defense for instance.
The events of this off-season only heighten the importance of the bullpen and clearly the NL East has a plethora of dynamite relievers — Papelbon, Storen, Clippard, Venters, Kimbrol, and Heath Bell. Aside from the health of Johan Santana, the ability of the Mets new and improved bullpen to keep pace with their NL East counterparts will tell us a lot about their season. And lets face it — those other teams have better names but the Mets might have a few hidden jewels of their own down there. And if guys like Francisco, Ramirez, Rauch, and Acosta (not to mention Brydak) perform like I think they can, the Mets might be better than people think. And the exodus of two big power bats from the league will only help them.
What do you think? Are the Mets pitchers up to the task?