The 2004 New York Mets "IF" List: NL East

Every year it appears the stars and moon must align properly for the New York Mets to have a successful season. This year will be no different. In a four part series, each "IF" will be presented, detailing what must happen for the New York Mets to play meaningful games this upcoming season. On Wednesday, Tom Glavine was listed as the Mets top "IF". The health of both Mike Piazza and Cliff Floyd was listed as second. And today we tackle the third of the bunch.

3) The Weakened National League East
The Phillies are a much-improved team based on their moves from this off-season. The Mets are slightly improved, but the rest of the National League, however, cannot say the same.

The Marlins will go from everyday players Derrek Lee, Ivan Rodriguez, Ugueth Urbina and Juan Encarnacion to Hee Seop Choi, Mike Redmond, Armando Benitez and a yet-to-be-determined right fielder.

The Expos lost Vladimir Guerrero and replaced him in the lineup with Nick Johnson. The ace of their staff goes from Javier Vasquez to Livan Hernandez. They will start Tony Batista at third, have no legit catcher and Carl Everett will round out their outfield.

Lastly, the Braves will make the following adjustments to their 2004 lineup: Johnny Estrada, who has 351 career at-bats, is in for Javy Lopez; John Thomson, who is a career 42-63, replaces Greg Maddux; J.D. Drew, who has yet to play an injury-free season, takes over for Gary Sheffield; and rookie Adam LaRoche, with zero Major League at-bats, is the odds on favorite to start at first base.

The Mets were 27-49 against the National League East last season, 5-15 during September. Having simply won more than half of their games against their division rivals entering the month of September, the Mets would have been near .500 and within striking distance of the Wild Card, or playing "meaningful games" as the Mets upper brass likes to say.

Where there is a winner, there is a loser, and while the Mets were falling victim to their division rivals, the rivals were adding wins to their results column. Therefore, by stating that winning half of their division games would have given the Mets more wins, it would also have given their rivals more losses, thus further closing the gap between them and the rest of the division. If this sounds like common sense, it's because it is. No team will ever win its division without beating up the teams within it. Since playing "meaningful games" is the goal, winning slightly more than half of their interdivisional games will be adequate.

If the Mets improve only slightly from last season; if the Expos, Braves and Marlins digress, as most people believe they will; and if the Mets can simply win the majority of their games played against these three teams they will have a clear shot at a .500 record and be playing "meaningful games" in September of this season.

Stay tuned for the final installment of The 2004 New York Mets "IF" List…

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