By Mike Steffanos
For those of you who are fans of South Park, you'll remember an episode from the recently completed tenth season where Eric Cartman elects to have himself frozen because he can't take the three week wait for the Nintendo Wii to hit the stores. I can identify with him, because I don't like waiting, either. Rather than turning myself into a popsicle, I've chosen to write all these pitching previews as a way of killing time until spring training gets underway. They're a lot of work, but I enjoy doing them.
I'm taking the weekend off from writing them, so look for Clint Nageotte's preview to show up late Sunday night. By the time I make it through Billy Wagner's preview we ought to be really close to the start of spring training. Sometimes spring is a complete bore, with few, if any, jobs up for grabs. While it's debatable how many jobs are really open, there is plenty of interest in monitoring the progress of the young pitchers on whom the Mets are staking so much this year.
I know some are apprehensive about how much the Phillies and Braves have improved themselves in the off-season, but I actually welcome it. Sure, we didn't have to sweat anything by the All Star Break, but I thought the collapse of the other contenders in the NL east made for a pretty boring last 2 months. Pennant races are an important part of the season, and victory laps that last that long kill the normal momentum. Maybe there are no guarantees this year, but it will be more fun. I think you can make an argument for any team but the Nationals taking the east this year.
Speaking of no guarantees, that's a pretty good way to describe the Mets pitching staff, particularly the starters. I had a talk with an old friend of mine that likes the Mets not all that long ago, and he voiced the concern that there wasn't a single "sure thing" in the rotation for 2007, with 41-year-old Tom Glavine about as close as you get to one. It got us to reminiscing about the 1987 Mets, which had about as close to a "sure thing" 1-5 rotation as any I've rooted for -- with all five pitchers young (Gooden 22, Darling 27, Ojeda 29, Sid Fernandez 24 and Rick Aguilera 25), experienced and pretty damn good.
Of course, it was starting pitching that killed the Mets as much as anything in 1987. Gooden began the year in his first drug rehab. Darling had a real off year with a 1.5 run jump in his ERA from the previous season, and then he got hurt late in the year against the Cardinals. Injuries limited Bob Ojeda to seven starts, and both Sid Fernandez and Aguilera missed time with injuries. Even the arrival of rookie David Cone couldn't save the team from finishing a disappointing 92-70, and 3 games out of playoff spot in those pre-wild card days. There are no sure things in baseball -- particularly with pitching -- so I don't really sweat that too much. The only thing that bothers me is when the team lacks talent, as it did in 2003 and 2004 when there were too many guys on the roster who lacked both talent and a future.
Look For Barry's Column Tomorrow
We'll be running our weekly column on Mets history from Barry Duchan tomorrow. This one will be about Jackie Robinson's one year as an employee of the Mets. As previously mentioned, late Sunday night I will post Clint Nageotte's profile.