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Coutinho: Mets Will Finish North Of .500 In 2012

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(credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)

(credit: Nick Laham/Getty Images)

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By Rich Coutinho
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All we’ve heard about the 2012 Mets has been negative, and that’s putting it mildly. It’s been more like depressing.

Well, I’m here to tell you that this year’s Mets will be an exciting team to watch — and will win more games than they will lose in 2012.

I’ve heard all the objections. Tough Division. Not enough this. Not enough that. But if history has shown anything in the National League, there’s always a team or two to prove the experts wrong. Before we start gushing about the Marlins or Nats, let’s remember the 2011 Diamondbacks and 2010 Reds, teams who came out of nowhere. In many ways, the Mets fit that profile.

The Diamondbacks case was a simple one. They went from a 90-loss team to a 90-win team by simply having two horses at the top of the rotation, coupled with a reliable closer. In fact, their offense might have been worse in ’11 than it was in ’10. Is it so hard to believe that Santana, Dickey and Niese could all pitch to a 3.50 ERA or under? Is it impossible to think the Mets’ bullpen will be better? Is it incomprehensible to think full seasons from Wright, Davis and Murphy will make the Mets’ lineup potent?

Remember this is a team that, without Santana, no closer in the second half and missing Ike Davis for most of the season, STILL won 77 games last year. So I think 83-85 wins is not out of the question.

We should also remember that the Mets have been told by everyone outside the organization (with the exception of a few like-minded media members) that they shouldn’t even bother showing up — especially in the tough NL East. This is a clubhouse filled with players out to prove the world wrong. Clearly, the Mets are not favorites (nor should they be) but there’s not one team in this division without its issues.

Even the mighty Phillies, who have a plethora of pitching, will be offensively challenged until Ryan Howard and Chase Utley get back on the field. The Braves have the albatross of playing the season after an epic collapse, one in which their first-year manager had to hear, “Would not have happened on Bobby Cox’s watch.” The Nationals are still growing and they’ve been hit by the injury bug in spring training, which could derail them at least at the start of the season.

And then we have the Marlins. No doubt they have improved, but what is the tangible result? The same people who question whether Johan Santana can be a durable ace need to have the same concern for Josh Johnson. And with Ozzie Guillen tweeting, Hanley Ramirez adjusting to a new position (one he went into kicking and screaming) plus a volcano named Carlos Zambrano residing in that clubhouse means the Marlins beat writers will be provided with daily stories, more fresh than some daytime soap operas.

When you talk to Mets players you get the sense they think they’re better than most of the experts say. And quite frankly, that’s what you’d expect them to say. But I believe it for a number of reasons. The biggest of those is No. 57 and his presence on Opening Day, which in many ways symbolizes the turning of the page. We all know he can pitch but he can also lead in a way very few pitchers who are not named Pedro Martinez can. He replaces the energy the Mets lost when Jose Reyes headed to South Beach — and that should not be underestimated.

This team will hit, as getting Ike Davis and David Wright back in the lineup on a daily basis will be a huge positive. Youngsters like Lucas Duda and Daniel Murphy had breakout years in 2011 and there is reason to think they will continue to develop. The new Citi Field dimensions will help all the players just mentioned, in addition to Jason Bay, who is trying to recapture an RBI stroke that has deserted him since signing with the team.

To me, the two big questions are defense and pitching. With Santana back in the saddle, it helps the rest of the rotation. Slotting R.A. Dickey and Jonathon Niese behind Johan, the big question marks are Mike Pelfrey and Dillon Gee. The relief corps is a question mark too. But quite frankly, most teams have similar issues as the effectiveness of a bullpen is very much hit or miss in this sport — unless your closer is named Mariano Rivera.

Another huge plus is that the Madoff cloud is behind this organization. That can not be understated. The mere fact that the Mets are giving an extension to Niese clearly illustrates that they will be heading back toward having a bigger payroll in the coming years — and that has a ripple down effect on the players. And those players could say that the Madoff stuff did not affect them till the cows come home, but they are human just like you and I and it was hard to ignore it.

But I think the thing Mets fans will grow to admire about this team is they will hustle, get their uniforms dirty and leave it all on the field. We saw a little bit of that last year but will see more of it in 2012. Don’t be surprised if the Mets add to their roster if they’re .500 or above around the All-Star break. Sandy Alderson has told me he has the flexibility to add to the payroll if an advantageous situation presents itself.

Now don’t get me wrong, the Mets have issues. But I just have a hunch the Madoff resolution, coupled with the return of Johan Santana, might be signaling that the worm is starting to turn for the Mets. And God knows they are overdue for some good luck.

The Mets fan is supposed to be one who takes a leap of faith. The team will certainly need their fans to do that. And if you do, the 2012 Mets will reward you with their desire and hustle.

It will be enough to get them to at least 83 wins in my opinion.

Do you think the Mets will hustle their way north of .500? Be heard in the comments below…

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