Monday, April 05, 2004

2004 Outlook - Mets
If you squint, you can actually see third place

It's finally time to saddle up (here's hoping that "Cowboy Up," the once inspirational, now dated mantra of the '03 Sox, goes the way of "Ya Gotta Believe," "We Are Family," and "I'm Too Sexy for My Shirt") and begin the grueling process of closely chronicling a sure disappointment. Even more gloomy is the prospect of being disappointed by a team that went 66-95 last season. The New York Metropolitans definitely bettered themselves in the offseason, shucking some more dead weight and adding skilled players in areas of need. But they are by no means a playoff contender, meaning that we're shooting for .500, maybe 85 wins if all goes extremely well. And yet this club is capable of falling short of even those low-bar expectations.

What's new for the Mets in '04? Over the winter they added Mike Cameron, Braden Looper, and Kaz Matsui, the last of which could be a brilliant ray of light for the team. They also added a couple of mediocre ex-Yankee outfielders and a handful of guys past their prime, including Scott Erickson, who was last seen pulling into his reserved parking spot at the Johns Hopkins hospital. These additions are nothing to pump your fist in the air about, especially while I'm typing this here at work. But they aren't the scary, high-dollar contracts that will invariably go bust, weighing so heavily on all of us that they'll need to be carted out on a freight train a la Roger Cedeno. (His trade to St. Louis over the weekend is worth a fist pump, even if the boss wonders why I'm so fired up from technical documentation.) The Mets solidified their defense, which cannot be overstated. Last year's write-ups frequently had comparisons between the Mets' outfield and the Ringling Brothers, and the infield (pre-Reyes) wasn't a whole lot better. The hitting isn't noticeably improved, but you never know. And the pitching . . . yikes. Let's just wait and see how goes the rotation of Tom Glavine (who's 38), Al Leiter (who's 38 and took a line drive off his head last week), Steve Trachsel, Erickson (now shopping for real estate on the DL), and rookie Tyler Yates (whose upside might be huge).

The honest assessment I gave Mr. Russell for our yearly wager was that the Mets should be about 10 games better than last year, so I'm predicting 76 wins. He claims his Red Sox should tally 98 victories, even with the injury bug upon them at this early juncture. So anything fewer than 22 games between them nets me a case of Harpoon (in his face), and here's hoping the Mets aren't desperately staving off defeat by the All-Star Break like last year.

And so we kick off MLC II with a loss by the Sox last night and Opening Day coming tomorrow night for the mighty Mets in Atlanta. Glavine takes the hill against Russ Ortiz. We're looking for a performance from Glavine slightly better than last year's outings against his old team, ones which had coaches reminding him after every inning that he was no longer a Brave. 2003's Opening Debacle set a tone (15-1 drubbing by the Cubs) that lasted 161 games. We'll soon know the tone of '04.

And just because I'm tired of writing about the Mets' woes, please allow myself to quote . . . myself . . . from my penultimate posting of the past year. Are the futures of the teams in this column that easy to predict???

". . . this season has lived up to the Misery Loves Company title. The trouble has been that I have received no company from my friend Rob Russell. What's to be miserable about in a 95-win season? The Sox finished 28.5 games ahead of the Mets, when he only needed them to be 13 better to win beer. The only way that Mr. Russell could provide company at this point would be if the Red Sox managed to get ever-so-close to the World Series trophy, only to fall flat at the last second in some agonizing way. But that never happens."

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