Call me a cockeyed optimist if you want, but I believe the Mets can go all the way in 2012—Bernie Madoff be damned. I will admit, before pretty much every season I convince myself there’s a chance the Mets can win it all. I need a reason to justify watching all the games (besides to listen to Keith, Ron and Gary, amazing as they are), and heading into a season thinking the Mets will finish in last place doesn’t do me any good. SC Dave recently expressed his belief in this year’s squad, now here’s why I think the Mets will follow the NY Giants down the Canyon of Heroes this year.
The Mets will score a ton of runs.
Last year, the Mets ranked 2nd in the NL in on-base % (OBP) and 6th in runs scored. They should’ve scored more, but they ranked 13th in homeruns (only 108). The World Series Champion Cardinals led the league in OBP and hit 54 more homers than the Mets, easily leading the league in runs. The Mets should hit a lot more homers this year with the fences moved in and full seasons (fingers crossed) from Ike, Bay, Wright, and Duda. The formula is very simple: get lots o’ men on base and hit homers when you do. That’s what I expect from the Mets this year.
Here’s a breakdown of their batting order.
1. Andrés Torres (R)—It all starts at the top of the order, with Angel Pagan’s replacement. He’s no youngster at 34, but he can still play excellent defense in center and, despite his horrid, injury-plagued season last year, he still stole 19 bases in 112 games. Before last season, he had a respectable .343 OBP for the Giants from 2009-10. I expect him to have a bounce-back year. If not, I’m excited to see what Kirk Niewenhieus can do.
2. Daniel Murphy (L)—I’ve loved this guy ever since he stormed onto the scene in 2008. I’ll always remember how excited I was after his leadoff triple in the bottom of the 9th in a tie game against the Cubs during the final week of that season, when every game was a must-win. Unfortunately Murph was stranded (big surprise!), and the Mets lost in extra innings and eventually missed the playoffs. Anyway, if Murphy stays healthy he’ll find his way into the lineup whether it’s at second, third, or (Valley Fever forbid) first base. He needs to hit like crazy so Terry can’t even think about taking him out of the lineup if he makes some errors at second base. If he plays 150 games, expect a monster season from Murph.
3. David Wright (R)—For all the flak David catches round these parts, he remains one of the top players at his position, and a crucial part of the Mets lineup. Wright will be the biggest beneficiary of any player from the new dimensions at Citi Field. He’s admitted he was trying to pull the ball with more authority the last couple of years to avoid the right-centerfield cemetery. When you try to pull the ball, you have to start your swing earlier, so you can’t read the pitch as well, and you end up with more strikeouts. He started to try to pull the outside pitches, which only led to more strikeouts or, at best, grounders to short. Now that the fences are moved in he’ll feel more comfortable going the other way knowing his long flyball could be a homer instead of just a loud out. Thus he can wait on pitches longer, which will reduce his strikeouts and allow him to use the whole field. David will go back to his bread & butter and start cranking balls over the right field fence again.
4. Ike Davis (L)—Hopefully “Valley Fever” doesn’t ruin this season like “Infield-fly Ankle” did last year. This guy is a beast and he was primed for a huge season last year before the infamous infield incident. The new downsized dimensions at Citi may allow a couple more of his fly-balls to sneak over the fence, but no park can hold Ike regardless. Watch out if you’re crossing the
Ike Shea Bridge while he’s at bat. This man is the key to the Mets offense this season, just as Carlos Delgado was to the 2006-08 Mets lineups. He’s a legit power hitter who offers protection to Wright and can put up a crooked number anytime he digs in with men on base. My sleeper pick for MVP of the NL and the Gold Glove winner at first base.
5. Jason Bay (R)—Will Jason Bay finally have a healthy, productive season? I think so. I think he’ll stop trying to do too much and “let the game come to him” as they say. Just like the shorter fences will help Wright, so too will they help Bay. I hope he’ll be able to cut down on the strikeouts as well. Bay’d better bounce back, or else Ike won’t be seeing too many pitches to hit. The guy also hustles all day and is one of the smartest base-runners I’ve ever seen. He should have a ton of men on ahead of him, and a behemoth called Duda behind him, so he’ll get 100 RBI by accident—and if he actually plays well, look out.
6. Lucas Duda (L)—Like Ike, no park can hold this guy, so the shorter fences shouldn’t be a huge factor for him on the offensive side—though they can definitely help him defensively. Duda has plenty of power and he’s a patient hitter. I’d like to see less strikeouts, but he gets deep into counts, so K’s are to be expected. His .370 OBP ranked 14th in the NL last year. He’s a reason to get to games early to catch batting practice. Love his bat, but as far as fielding goes… I love his bat.
7. Ruben Tejada (R)—Tough shoes to fill. Terry Collins is too smart to allow Tejada to bat leadoff which is just too much pressure to put on this kid. If Torres falters offensively, though, and Tejada continues his 2011 hitting, then they could flip-flop them in the order while maintaining the alternating righty-lefty lineup. Speaking of 2011, Tejada’s .360 OBP ranked him 2nd among Major League Second Basemen (min. 300 AB) behind Dustin Pedroia. If he could even approach that number this season, the Mets would be ecstatic.
8. Josh Thole (L)—Thole had a disappointing season in 2011, but this kid knows how to handle a bat. One of the things I love about Thole is he’s one of the few players left who actually chokes up. What a novel idea! Instead of swinging for the fences with 2 strikes, he actually sacrifices power for bat control. That helped make him the 5th toughest NL catcher to strike out last year. Take notes, Jason K. He has a very respectable career OBP of .350, which is 6th best among active NL catchers.
Utility/Primary Pinch hitter – Justin Turner—He can play second or third if Murphy or Wright get hurt or need a day off, and he proved last year that he can play at the big-league level, and play well. He smacked 30 doubles last year, and a few of those could turn into homeruns this year. He needs to get on base more often (.334 OBP in ’11) but he doesn’t strike out much, so he’ll probably do a decent job as a pinch-hitter (.400 BA as a PH in 2011).
This lineup, if healthy, can do some serious damage. As you can see, they have a righty-lefty alternation all the way through which is always a good thing. Aside from the stats they can put up, I love the character of the individual players. I get the feeling that these guys really believe in themselves, and that’s a reflection on their manager. Guys like Ike Davis and Daniel Murphy refuse to let the pessimism of sportswriters, and talk-radio hosts/callers get to them. Most of these guys are young and want to prove they belong, while those that aren’t so young (Wright, Bay, Torres) are coming off injury-shortened, under-performing seasons and have to prove they can regain their old form. I like the potential. Here’s hoping they stay healthy enough to realize it.
Next up: Part 2 – Pitching