Spring training finally starts today. And while most of the attention will be on A-Roid and the rest of the Yankees, Mets fans will be focused on the goings on in Port St. Lucie.
The Mets have plenty of questions heading into the camp, and many of them have been asked in this paper and others, but I have a few questions myself. Questions that will go a long to way to determine just how good the Mets will be.
1. Is Jerry Manuel the right man for the job?
Manuel did a tremendous job turning the Mets around after taking over for Willie Randolph, but when all was said and done, Manuelís Mets still fell short. While Manuel gets credit for leading the Mets - who were 34-35 when he took over - into first place in September, he should get the blame for not finishing the job. And this Joe Smith story from the season finale has me wondering if this guy really knows what he's doing. Manuel was clearly a breath of fresh air following Randolph, but Iím curious how his Mr. Laughs shtick will play if the Mets get off to a lousy start.
2. Does this team have any guts?
The core group of the Mets (Reyes, Wright, Beltran & Delgado) is great when things are going good, but that same group has completely vanished when the going gets tough. The Mets rolled to the division title in 2006 and smoked an inept Dodger team, but as soon as the Cards showed some fight in the NLCS, the Mets were done. The same thing happened in 2007 and 2008 when they went toe-to-toe with the Phillies. This group has to show it can win a knock-em-down, drag-em-out fight before we can start talking about a World Series title.
3. Can David Wright handle the pressure?
Wright is the face of the franchise, and he knows more than anybody whatís expected of this team. And thatís part of the problem. In the past, he has tried too hard in the big spot, usually failing. The ninth-inning at-bat in the Daniel Murphy game last year is a perfect example. This guy does not want choking away division titles to be his Met legacy, but he must realize he canít do it all by himself. Itís a fine balance, but so far, he hasnít shown he can do it. Maybe this year he will.
4. Which John Maine will show up?
This is the key question of the entire season. If the 2007 John Maine shows up, the Mets could be in for a big year. With Santana and a strong Maine, the Mets would have as solid as 1-2 punch as anyone in baseball. That would also take the pressure off Pelfrey, Perez, whoever the fifth starter is and the bullpen. However, if Maine struggles like he did in 2008, and fails to get past the sixth inning every fifth day, the Mets could be in for a long season. One of the main reasons the bullpen was so awful last year was that it was overworked, and Maine was a big reason why.
5. Can we get the ball to K-Rod and Putz?
Not only will Maine, Pelfrey, Perez and the fifth starter determine the answer to this question, guys like Duaner Sanchez and Pedro Feliciano will, too, and thatís what worries me. Assuming Putz and K-Rod are lights out all season, the sixth and seventh inning pitchers could determine the Metsí fate. I feel much better with Heilman and Schoeneweis out of the picture, but my confidence in Sanchez, Feliciano and Brian Stokes isnít exactly sky high. This is where the lineup comes into play. Too many times last season the Mets scored early then packed it in the rest of way, putting too much pressure on the bullpen to hold the lead. The Mets need to score plenty of runs, especially in games Perez and Pelfrey start, to keep every game from being a nail-biter. This is where having Manny Ramirez, or any legitimate bat in left field, wouldíve helped.
Well, there you have it. Hopefully everything works out.
Things should start to pick up today with K-Rod making his first appearance in Port. St. Lucie. Itís finally here, now I just hope it was worth the wait.