by Harold Friend
National East teams, especially the Philadelphia Phillies, could be in for a rude awakening this season. There is a tendency to forget that the Mets had the best team in the National League in 2007 and again in 2008. Forget the fact that in each of those seasons, the Phillies, taking advantage of fortuitous circumstances, barely won the Eastern Division title.
Key Players Must Remain Healthy
This season's Mets' team will finish first if key players remain healthy, starting with one of the top five pitchers in baseball, Johan Santana. After undergoing arthroscopic surgery to remove bone chips from his left elbow, Santana recently had a throwing session and reported that it appears he is fully recovered for this season.
Bone Chips Before
In 2003, Johan had bone chips. After the season, he had surgery, recovered in time for spring training, and won 20 games for the Minnesota Twins. Now at the age of 31, Santana should be as effective as ever, which does not bode well for the rest of baseball.
John Maine, whom the Mets stole from the Baltimore Orioles in 2006 for Kris Benson, had a bone spur, described by doctors as the biggest they had ever seen, removed from his shoulder in 2008. He returned last season, but he suffered from arm fatigue in June, and finished the season 7-6, with a 4.43 ERA. If John is healthy in 2010, there are few number two starters as good.
Mike Pelfrey May Break Out
Mike Pelfrey was drafted in the first round as the ninth overall pick in the 2005 draft. He has shown flashes of brilliance, and despite past inconsistencies, has the potential for a break out 2010 season. In 2008, Mike was a 13 game winner with a 113 ERA+.
Perez May Do it Again
The Mets' coaching staff will be working overtime with Oliver Perez. To say that it is difficult to know how effectively Oliver is going to pitch on any given day is an understatement, but his "stuff" is great, as demonstrated in the seventh game of the 2006 playoffs. Perez pitched well enough to win, but an unexpected home run by Yadier Molina off the since departed Aaron Heilman prevented the Mets from having the opportunity to win another World Championship.
Ryota Igarashi and Friends
The bullpen should be effective. Newly acquired Ryota Igarashi should be able to be a solid set up man for ace closer Francisco Rodriguez. Pedro Feliciano is effective against left-handed batters, and right-hander Kelvim Escobar has proved his is one of the top relief pitchers around.
The New Offense
The offense could strike fear into the hearts of opposing pitchers. Switch-hitting shortstop Jose Reyes, who was ranked as at least Derek Jeter's equal in 2008, should bounce back. He has led the league in triples three times, and in stolen bases three times. He hits, hits with power, and has outstanding speed.
Jason Bay, signed as a free agent, David Wright, Jeff Francoeur, and Daniel Murphy, who led the team in home runs, will provide the right handed power. It should be remembered that in 2009, switch-hitting second baseman Luis Castillo batted over .300, while switch-hitting center fielder Carlos Beltran is ready for a great season if he can maintain his health.
Catcher Omir Santos, who did a decent job last season, will catch, but don't be surprised by prized youngster Josh Thole, who hits from the left side with Yogi Berra type potential. He hit .321 in limited duty last season, after batting .328 at Binghamton.
The Mets surprised the "experts" by having a poor 2009 season. Now that Santana, Reyes, Beltran, and Jason Bay should be around all season, they will surprise the "experts" again.