By Mike Steffanos
Sorry about the late post today. I had a client come over and that chewed up most of the day. This will be posted so close to game time, I'm assuming that most of the people who read it will read it after the game. You'll already know how Johan Santana's first start in a Mets jersey went, and whether there will be jubilation or hand-wringing tomorrow.
Other than my sarcastic jibe at the Met-hating national media, I haven't taken a stab at predictions this season. There are strengths and weaknesses for the Mets, Braves and Phillies. I think all three have close to an equal chance to come out on top, and all feature worst-case scenarios for a disappointing season.
For the Mets, the strength is rotation 1-4 and a much improved bullpen that will hopefully see a lot less work. The weaknesses are age, fragility and the possibility that Delgado doesn't bounce back with at least a decent season.
As for the Braves, they have a really solid pitching staff if everyone clicks and stays healthy. They also have a better offense than the Mets if they can keep those guys -- particularly Larry Jones -- on the field. Their weaknesses are a dependence on two 40+ pitchers and another guy (Mike Hampton) who has missed two full seasons, and a closer (Rafael Soriano) who I have some doubts about. The Braves are the hot pick in the NL this year, yet the people who pick them endlessly point out how the Braves are being "overlooked". Do any of them have the brains to see the irony in that? Apparently not.
The Phillies will score a zillion runs as long as they can keep their key guys healthy. They're young enough and have a good track record in that regard, but you never know. Their pitching depends on a lot of things going right for them, and if they do they'll be tough to beat. If they don't, though -- say Brad Lidge continues to struggle, they can't find a decent back of the rotation and they have to go deep into their bullpen on a regular basis -- things can get ugly there, too.
For some reason the pundits seem to be convinced that everything will work out for the Bravos and Phillies, but not for our beloved Metropolitans. I'm worried about our weaknesses, but I'm optimistic. I believe that the pitching will be much better, and that will cover for some of the shortcomings. I don't think the offense will be as robust as the past two seasons, but maybe that will encourage the club to work opposing pitchers better. If we can lose a bunch of those 8-pitch innings we saw last year we can make up for less power. Actually, I'd prefer seeing professional at bats on a regular basis, and would willingly trade home runs for that privilege. I'd love to root for a team in 2008 that brings a competitive fire to their games, too.
I've learned a long time ago not to buy into a "championship or bust" mentality that saps the joy out of rooting for a team. If I wanted to be a Yankees fan, I would have done so. I want to see my team compete, play the game right and prove to me that the lackadaisical mentality we witnessed last season is gone. As long as that happens, this will be a good year.