Apr 04

April 4.10: Tomorrow’s line-up?

The first pitch of the season hasn’t even been thrown yet and there are already questions about Jerry Manuel’s line-up.

For instance, whatever happened to Angel Pagan leading off? If not Pagan, then why not Gary Matthews? Alex Cora was their best choice to lead off?

And, all that money for Jason Bay and he’s not batting cleanup? I would have gone Bay, Mike Jacobs and Jeff Francoeur as my 4-5-6 hitters.

I realize the line-up isn’t the same without Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes, but this was akin to pulling numbers out of a cap. Luis Castillo and David Wright are the only ones slotted where they should be.

Alex Cora, SS
Luis Castillo, 2B
David Wright, 3B
Mike Jacobs, 1B
Jason Bay, LF
Gary Matthews, CF
Jeff Francoeur, RF
Rod Barajas, C
Johan Santana, LP

Apr 04

April 4.10: What’s your confidence level?

Good morning and Happy Easter to everyone. It’s a gorgeous day. The Mets have returned home after a so-so spring.

It’s always fun looking at the standings before Opening Day. Zeroes across the board. Everybody is even. That’s in theory, at least.

We do know that some teams are more even than others, and the Mets are not one of them.

They still have the same pitching questions as at the start of spring training, and Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes will begin the season on the disabled list. So will Daniel Murphy and Kelvim Escobar.

Looking at tomorrow’s projected line-up, and only two players – David Wright and Luis Castillo – were starters last year on Opening Day. Not a good sign.

Opening Day is a time for optimism and hope, but with these Mets it could be hoping they don’t stink that badly. You want to be positive, but it is hard when you see that rotation.

So, am I overstating things? What’s your confidence level in this team? Do they make the playoffs? Are they competitive? Will they even finish .500?

Mar 31

March 31.10: Murphy down.

The count is up to three the number of Mets who will start the season injured. Daniel Murphy’s sprained right MCL will have him join Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran.

GM Omar Minaya said Mike Jacobs is the frontrunner to start at first, eschewing the knee jerk reaction to bring up Ike Davis. It was a scenario like this which is the reason they brought in Mike Jacobs in the first place. Jacobs, a veteran left-handed bat with power gives the Mets a chance to be competitive.

The Mets sent Davis down for a reason, because they didn’t think he was ready. Their plan is for him to get consistent at-bats in the minors than sporadic time in the majors. To stick with that plan is the right move.

Mar 24

March 24.10: It’s Murphy’s time.

You can read a couple of things into the Ike Davis demotion relating to Daniel Murphy.

One, there’s talk-show speculation Murphy was pressured by Davis’ presence and the possibility of him losing the position. Second, that the Mets still have faith in Murphy.

It’s the latter.

Jerry Manuel said Murphy is his first baseman, and it actually looks like that’s going to happen. For how long is another question.

With Murphy hitting below the Mendoza line this spring, and him not having much power to begin with, first base could be a black hole offensively for the team.
Murphy, at this stage of his career, is not a power hitter, but that’s not to say he can’t develop more power.

All along we’ve heard how the Mets rush some players and don’t have patience with others. Murphy has gone through a lot, enough to earn the Mets’ patience for now.

With David Wright ahead of him, Murphy, a natural third baseman was moved to another black hole, left field, at the end of the 2008 season.
He showed enough to where he was the starting left fielder last season, but it didn’t take. The Mets once considered him as a possible second baseman, but saddled with Luis Castillo’s contract, that didn’t work either.

So, it was on to first base a couple of months into last year, where Murphy played surprisingly well considering. The only problem is he doesn’t hit for the prototypical power of a first baseman.

But, he’s only 24 with one full season on his resume. But, after he settled in at first, he become more comfortable at the plate, made some adjustments, and hit .282. He also hit 38 doubles, which is an indication of some pop, and led the team with 12 homers.

Who knows? Maybe he’ll develop into a .300 hitter and hit 20 to 25 homers. It could happen.

But, if the season hinges on Murphy hitting for power, then the Mets are in big trouble anyway. Theoretically, they’ll get power from Wright, Carlos Beltran, Jason Bay and Jeff Francoeur. All should hit close to 30 homers.

If Murphy doesn’t, then so what?

Let’s take a look at this team. There are questions in the bullpen and the rotation has been horrid this spring. The Mets need a bounce-back year from Wright, and Beltran, and possibly Jose Reyes will open the season on the disabled list.

So, Murphy not hitting more than 20 homers seems to be low on the priority list.

Mar 22

March 22.10: Questions down the stretch.

When pitchers and catchers reported Feb. 18, I posted five key questions the Mets faced heading into spring training. With two weeks remaining, there are issues with four of those five concerns.

Question: What is this team’s attitude?
Assessment: By all accounts, it is good and positive. The Mets aren’t rolling through their spring schedule, but there have been no issues of lack of hustle and laziness. David Wright said the Mets need to use last year’s embarrassment as a motivator. Jason Bay is fitting in and Jeff Francoeur has been a positive influence. So far, so good, but they haven’t played any games that count yet.

Question: How healthy is this team?
Assessment: Injuries sabotaged the 2009 season, and already two of the team’s core will open the season on the disabled list and likely won’t be ready until May. Carlos Beltran’s knee is responding well to rehab and Jose Reyes’ hamstring feels good. However, Reyes’ issue is his thyroid and one wonders how that will be with the riggers of the season. Reliever Kelvim Escobar, penciled in as a set-up man, has missed the entire spring with shoulder pain. There have been no problems physically with Francoeur, Oliver Perez, Johan Santana and John Maine, all with recent surgery on their resume.

Question: What is the status of the three pitching questions, Mike Pelfrey, Oliver Perez and John Maine?
Assessment: These three guys represent the season’s key. If they do well, then the Mets can contend. The Mets didn’t make any rotation additions this winter because they believe in the upside of these three. It has been an up-and-down spring for all three, but Perez has been refreshingly positive. However, none have performed to where the Mets can say they are in the clear. The concerns remain.

Question: Who is fifth starter?
Assessment: Fernando Nieve, Jon Niese, Nelson Figueroa and Hisanori Takahashi are in the mix. Takahashi has looked the best, but he hasn’t pitched enough to be stretched out. Niese has options remaining, so they could do the safe thing and send him out and protect someone else. Jerry Manuel said he’ll use a fifth starter from the start, so there will be no hiding him with the off-days in April. This is the biggest decision remaining in camp.

Question: What is the make-up of the bullpen?
Assessment: The biggest sub-question is whether Jenrry Mejia goes north in the pen and what role he would have. With his stuff, he’s a closer in waiting, which makes me think eighth-inning set-up. But, will the Mets expose him to that or put him in a low-pressure role. To me, that’s defeatist thinking. If you’re afraid to use him, then why carry him? Losing Escobar went a large part in opening the door for Mejia. So has, the general ineffectiveness of the relievers. If Takahashi doesn’t make it in the rotation, it could be him. Any of the losers for the fifth-starter could also fit as the long man. Bobby Parnell is still around, but he might be a casualty if they keep Takahashi in the pen. Kiko Calero and Ryota Igarashi will make the roster. Pedro Feliciano is still the only lefty of substance.