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“I think we’ll have to play harder, execute better and stay focused for 162 games,” – New York Mets first baseman Carlos Delgado.

The Blue Jays “el foldo” job against Detroit in 1987, while still pretty darn painful for all Jays fans, doesn’t look nearly as bad as what the Metropolitans pulled off in 2007.  The Mets let the 1964 Philadelphia Phillies off the hook for the worst choke job in baseball history.  The ’64 Phils blew a 6 1/2 game lead with 12 games to play while New York did them one half-game better, squandering a 7 game lead to the Phillies with 17 left to play.

On the heels of an NL East title the year before and coming within one game of appearing in the World Series, the Mets looked to be well on their way to repeating as division champs as they won 34 of their first 52 games.  They also celebrated a number of milestones along the way such as Tom Glavine’s 300th career victory, Billy Wagner surpassing the 350 save barrier, Pedro Martinez notching his 3,000th career strikeout and David Wright posting the club’s fifth 30-30 season.   However, chinks began to appear in the Mets armour as hitting coach Rick Down was fired last July and was replaced by Howard Johnson.  Rickey Henderson joined the team as first-base coach but nothing could shake the team out of its lethargy as they went 54-56 after their strong start.  The lethargic play was symbolized by shortstop Jose Reyes, who batted .187 in his final 32 games.  The bullpen also imploded by losing 12 of its 17 last  decisions, converting just 12 of 23 save opportunities and compiling an 5.30 ERA in its last 48 games.

They headed into the final day of the regular season, tied with Philadelphia for top spot in the East but the Mets hopes of finishing on top were dashed in Tom Glavine’s final start as a Met.  The Florida Marlins hung a 7-spot on the Hall of Fame bound lefty in the first inning and went on to win 8-1 at Shea Stadium.  To rub more salt into the wound, Carlos Delgado had his hand broken by a Dontrelle Willis pitch when the Mets batted in their half of the first.  The choke was complete when the Phillies beat Washington to set off a celebration at Citizens Bank Park.   That left the Mets with an 88-74 record, one game behind the Phillies in the NL East.

The Mets made a few moves in the off-season, dealing outfield prospect Lastings Milledge to Washington for catcher Brian Schneider and outfielder Ryan Church, saying good-bye to catcher Paul Lo Duca and jettisoning reliever Guillermo Mota to Milwaukee for catcher Johnny Estrada, who would later be non-tendered.

However, they made the mother of all transactions as they acquired Johan Santana from Minnesota in exchange for four prospects - outfielder Carlos Gomez and pitchers Phillip Humber, Kevin Mulvey and Deolis Guerra.  Santana then signed a six-year deal worth $137.5 million dollars, making the southpaw the highest paid pitcher in baseball.  Manager Willie Randolph, who survived last year’s collapse, will have the pleasure of handing the ball to Santana when the Mets open their season on the road March 31st against the team that delivered the final nail in the 2007 coffin, the Florida Marlins.  They’ll return home April 9th to face Cincinnati for the final home opener at Shea Stadium as they prepare to move to brand new Citi Field in 2009.

The Mets are hoping to give Shea Stadium a proper send-off as they look to upend the Phillies and hold off the Braves in what should be a three-horse race in the NL East.  Here’s how they line up at each position…..

CATCHER – Brian Schneider is expected to be an upgrade over Paul Lo Duca when it comes to handling pitchers and calling a game.  Schneider is no great shakes with the twig but over the last two seasons, he averaged slightly better RBIs per 100 at-bats than Lo Duca.  Schneider batted. 235 with six homers and 54 RBIs in 408 at-bats with the Nationals last season and threw out 31 percent of would-be base stealers.  This spring, Schneider has been hampered by a sore hamstring.

Ramon Castro will be the right-handed hitting half of the catching platoon.  The 31 year-old signed a two-year deal over the off-season after posting a career high .285 with 11 home runs.  After coming close to signing Yorvit Torrealba in the off-season, there was some initial thought to making Castro the number one backstop.  However, the Mets opted to acquire Schneider as Castro has had injury issues in the past. 

35 year-old Raul Casanova, a .234 career hitter with the Tigers, Brewers, Orioles and Rays, and 26 year-old Gustavo Molina, formerly of the White Sox, could figure into the mix if Schneider can’t answer the bell.  

1ST BASE - Carlos Delgado posted the worst numbers of his career (.254, 24 HR, 87 RBI) in every major offensive category, along the way dropping from fourth to sixth in the line-up.   He was not 100 percent healthy as he suffered injuries to his left knee and right hip as well as the aforementioned broken hand on the final day of the season. Much like his final days in Toronto when he was criticized for his defence, Delgado also drew heat for not becoming a vocal clubhouse leader.  "Every time I talk about leadership, it's a very sensitive issue," Delgado said. "Being vocal when you don't need to be vocal -- that doesn't make a great leader.

Delgado has not been able to shake the injury bug so far in spring training.  He still has a sore right hip and his arm was cut for a few stitches after Brady Clark’s bat splintered while he was standing at third base during a game. 

His replacement, “Florida” Marlon Anderson, bruised his sternum in an outfield collision with Ryan Church.

2nd BASE - Luis Castillo will be calling the Big Apple home for the next 4 seasons after signing a deal worth $25-million.  He was acquired before the trade deadline from Minnesota for two minor leaguers.  He will team with Jose Reyes at the top of the order to provide speed for the go-go Mets.  Castillo batted .296 during a 50-game/48-start audition after Jose Valentin fractured his leg on a foul, ending his season after just 51 games.  He was 10-for-12 in stolen base attempts and the Mets hope he can recover from off-season knee surgery that was described to be a “clean-up”.  The Mets hope Castillo will see a lot of fastballs in the number two hole when leadoff man Jose Reyes gets aboard. 

As for Valentin, his hopes of making the opening day roster were dashed after suffering a pinched nerve in his neck.  The 38 year-old, who was also taking groundballs at first base, may have to retire if he undergoes surgery.  He will report to extended spring training.   

SHORTSTOP - Jose Reyes bore a large brunt of the blame for the Mets late season collapse, when he batted .135 in his final 37 at-bats.  He was also criticized for his lackadaisical play and for not running out ground balls.  Theories for Reyes’ slump range from a heavy workload, playing 160 games and the trappings of an inflated ego, fame and friends.  It was also thought that former first-base coach Rickey Henderson may have been a negative influence on him.  However, Henderson helped Reyes steal a club record 23 bases in the month of August.   "Jose just picked a bad time to go into slump," said manager Willie Randolph. . Still, the 24-year-old Reyes batted. 280 with 12 homers and collected a career-high 77 walks to go along with 78 stolen bases, which led the Majors. 

Reyes will be turning over a new leaf when his comes to his dancing and high-five routines.  "I'm going to slow down with that a little bit," Reyes said. "I'm going to focus a little more on baseball. A lot of people say with the handshakes, the other team can get mad. People say that because of the way we finished last year."

3rd BASE - David Wright gained some MVP consideration after a stellar season across the board with a .325 average, 30 homers and 34 stolen bases.   He won his first Gold Glove despite finishing seventh in the league in fielding percentage.   Wright drove in 107 runs, had an OBP of .416 and slugged. 546.  No worries here at the hot corner for the Metropolitans.  

OUTFIELD – The Mets hoped lining up their outfield would be as simple as “A-B-C” (Alou, Beltran, Church).    However, Moises Alou will not be patrolling left field for the next four to six weeks because he needs surgery to repair a hernia.  The 41 year-old Alou missed two-and-a-half months last season but still managed to post a .341 average with 13 homers and 49 RBIs.  Alou told teammates last season he was tired of spending time on the disabled list and was leaning towards retirement but the team’s late-season collapse prompted him to return. 

Veterans Damion Easley and Endy Chavez may share left field against left-handed pitchers and right-handed pitchers, respectively.  The 29 year-old Chavez missed 2 1/2 months last season after he tore his left hamstring.  The former Expo only appeared in 71 games, down from 133 in 2006, batting .287 in 150 at-bats.  He also injured his right hamstring and right ankle sliding into home during Winter Ball in Venezuela. 

In center field, Carlos Beltran put together a solid season, batting .276/.353/.525 with 33 dingers and 112 RBI but his slugging and OBP were down 69 and 35 points, respectively.  Beltran had tendonitis in both of his knees last season, and underwent surgery over the off-season. 

Ryan Church takes over in right field.  With the Nats last year, he hit .15 homers and drove in 70 runs, which all but equalled what the Mets got out of all of their right fielders last season, including the traded Lastings Milledge and the retired Shawn Green (yay!), in 145 fewer at-bats.  Church needs to prove he can handle southpaws, batting just .229 against them last season compared to his career average of .254.  One thing in Church’s favour is playing his home games at Shea Stadium, where he is a .317 lifetime with four homers.  "I hit well there," Church said. "I like hitting there. That's why I'm excited. I definitely think that the doubles can turn into home runs."   

Hitting coach Howard Johnson also he has corrected a flaw in Church's stance by getting him to narrow his stance about five inches.   "It feels better when I'm loading," Church says. "I feel more balanced. I keep my hands lower, too, so now I don't drop the barrel so much. And I'm using my legs more. ... When I do it right, it works well."  Church says by standing more erect, he can see pitches earlier, longer and more clearly.

Right field production comparison

A closer look at the production of Mets outfielders compared to the output of Ryan Church during the 2007 season.

Mets' '07 output


Church in '07




















Home runs



Slugging percentage



On-base percentage



Batting average



Stolen bases



However, Church suffered a concussion this spring as the result of an outfield collision with Marlon Anderson.  Church had no memory of the collision but he has reminders of it thanks to cuts on the inside of his lip and half of a shiner under his left eye.  Anderson, the club’s primary pinch-hitter, came way with a bruised sternum, sore ribs and a sore jaw. 

Switch-hitter Angel Pagan, if he wins a place on the roster, or Damion Easley, could spell Church against lefties.  Pagan was picked up from the Cubs in exchange for two Minor League players.  Pagan , who was in the Mets system from 2000 to 2005, was at Triple-A Iowa before getting called up to the Cubs on May 10. He hit .264 with four home runs, 21 RBIs and four stolen bases in 71 games.  

STARTING ROTATION – Johan Santana gives the Mets a bonafide 200-plus innings starter as he has averaged 228 innings over the last four seasons.  The Mets also hope John Maine and lefty Oliver Perez can also approach the 200 inning level to reduce the strain on the bullpen. 

John Maine admitted he pitched most of last season with pain in his left hip.  The 26 year-old still managed to finish with a record of 15-10 with a 3.91 ERA and 180 strikeouts but his ERA in the second half was 5.53. 

Oliver Perez also had a 15 win season to set a career high.  He struck out nearly a batter per inning but keeping his pitch counts down proved to be a challenge as his 17.1 pitches per inning was the seventh-highest mark among qualified starters in 2007.

Pedro Martinez came back last September from right rotator cuff surgery to go 3-1 in his five starts and posted a 2.57 ERA>  Although the velocity on his fastball was down, he mixed his changeup and curve effectively over five  to strike out a batter per inning.  Martinez is looking forward to teaming up with Johan Santana.  "It will be great to pitch beside [Santana] to get the opportunity to exchange our knowledge," Martinez said.

Other than Martinez’s health, the big question is who will be the number 5 starter. 

Orlando Hernandez, who won 9 of 14 decisions with a 3.72 ERA last year, is employing a new windup by shortening leg kick in which he pulls his knee up nearly to his chin.  It’s to help compensate for a bunion on his right foot.  He normally pushes off his toes but has been pushing off with his right foot flat on the ground.  Scouting reports indicate there’s no life on El Duque’s pitches.  In a recent spring start against the Cardinals, a home run he surrendered to Rick Ankiel came on an 60 mph pitch.  Raul Casanova, El Duque's catcher that day, said three times "He didn't have the velocity he wanted today." Most of the radar gun readings began with a "7."  

Mike Pelfrey , who  was 3-6 with a 4.01 ERA, is also contending for the fifth spot in the rotation but he was also rocked for 8 runs on 13 hits in 4 1/3 innings in relief of El Duque in that same game against the Cardinals.   Pelfrey has been working on locating his fastball and improving his slider and change.  Pitching coach Rick Peterson had him eliminate the curve and replace it with the slider.

The 2005 first rounder from Wichita State is also working on not tipping his pitches.  Pelfrey will spread wide the fingers of his glove -- he calls it "fanning my glove" -- whenever he reaches into it to grasp the baseball, regardless of the pitch he intends to deliver -- fastball, slider or changeup. In the past, when Pelfrey fanned glove – it meant a changeup was coming; a visible tongue meant fastball; neither of the two was a slider. 

However, when the Marlins scored 7 runs off him in a recent spring start, closer Billy Wagner, outfielder Ryan Church and hitting coach Howard Johnson told him they had cracked his code. "They all told me they had my fastball," Pelfrey said Sunday morning. "Every time I threw my fastball, I was really chewing on the mouthpiece, bearing down. The other pitches ... I didn't chew."

One observer watching Pelfrey said, "He was better when I saw him two years ago.  He still has that heavy ball, and the changeup isn't bad. But the slider is getting killed. He may be better off just scrapping it and going sinker, changeup, 'cause what he's throwing up there now as a breaking ball isn't going to get him a job."

The Mets won’t need a fifth starter until their 17th game of the season.

BULLPEN –  All-Star Closer Billy Wagner nailed down 34 saves to go along with a 2.63 ERA, in large part by not allowing an earned run in July.  However, he wore down in August His with a 6.23 ERA and three blown saves in August before struggling with back problems in September. He also worked with pitching great Sandy Koufax on developing a curveball.  Said Koufax, "Changing speeds for a guy who throws 100 mph is not always easy. I think Billy's come to the realization now that he might have to find one more pitch. If it works for him, great."

Aaron  Heilman (7-7, 3.03 ERA) and the left-handed Pedro Feliciano (2-2, 3.09) formed one of the league's top tandems in the seventh and eighth innings. To ask either for marked improvement would be a stretch.

Former Blue Jay Scott Schoeneweis had a rough first season with the Mets after putting up an ERA just north of 5.00.  His hefty contract means he’ll probably stick around at Shea this year.  He also avoided a suspension for his involvement with performance-enhancing substances but MLB investigators found "insufficient evidence'' he had used the substances he had received prior to 2005.

Matt Wise is also in line to land a spot in the bullpen.  The 32 year-old righty went 3-2 with one save and a 4.19 ERA in a career-high 56 games with the Brewers last year.  In 53.2 innings, his strikeout/walk ration was 43-17.  His ERA against the NL East since 2005 is 3.27.  Wise had six outings last season where he pitched two or more innings.  He tends to be more effective against left-handed hitters.  

The Mets hope the 2008 version of Duaner Sanchez is like 2006.  He had a 2.60 ERA over the first half of 2006 and seemed primed to do the same in the second half before a taxicab accident first injured his shoulder.  Though he is progressing, he has not yet pitched on back-to-back days this spring, which will hurt his chances of making the Opening Day roster. 

Joe Smith looks to rebound after a shaky ’07.  His sub-sidearm delivery helped him win a job last spring and he held opponents scoreless in his first 17 appearances (15 1/3 innings).  Then, his slider didn't dart, his pitches didn't sink, and he lost velocity.  He was eventually sent down to the minors in late July.   He is working on standing straighter before he begins his delivery to make his release point and his velocity more consistent and restore life to his pitches.

Ex-Tampa Bay reliever Brian Stokes is also vying for a job in the pen.  The Mets staff likes Stokes' fastball-changeup combination. Stokes produced a 2-7 record and a 7.07 ERA in 59 games for the Rays in 2007.  He only struck out 35 batters and walked 25 in 62 1/3 innings. 

Steven Register, a Rule 5 pick from Colorado, is hoping to find work in the Mets' bullpen after leading the Double-A Texas League in saves (37) last season.  General manager Omar Minaya says Register "throws his breaking ball for strikes. We like the way he competes."   However, Register is not known for throwing smoke out on the mound. 

The Mets also invited lefty Ricardo Rincon to camp on a minor league deal.  The 37 year-old was with the Giants AAA team in Fresno for all of seven games before going down with a torn ACL.  

A Tale of Two Bullpens

Opening Day through Aug. 9









Save conversion




Opp. BA





345 1/3











Inherited runners stranded

118/166 (71 percent)




Aug. 10 through season's end









Save conversion




Opp. BA





166 1/3











Inherited runners stranded

55/86 (64 percent)



Courtesy of Elias Sports Bureau

BENCH - Olmedo Saenz signed a minor league deal.  The 37-year old right-handed hitter has is a career .256 average off the bench with 12 home runs and 58 RBI.   Last season, he tied for fourth in the majors with 14 pinch hits (14-for-63, .222) and also had two home runs and 12 RBI but only hit .191 with the Dodgers overall.

Endy Chavez, Ramon Castro, Marlon Anderson and Damion Easley are projected to have all the bench spots locked up.   Easley is coming back from an ankle injury that ended his season in late July.  He has seen action as second base, left field, right field, first base and third base

ANDERSON, ANDERSON & ANDERSON – During an intrasquad game this spring, it was Anderson Hernandez at shortstop, Anderson Machado at third base and Marlon Anderson at first base.  "We had a popup," Marlon Anderson said. "And the pitcher's yelling 'Anderson, Anderson.' And we're yelling 'Which one?'"

PREDICTION  – Thanks in large part to a Cy Young season from Johan Santana, a healthier Pedro Martinez and a refocused Jose Reyes, the Mets will win the East with a record of 96-66.

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The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.