NL East Preview: New York Mets

The Mets have no less than five legitimate homerun threats in their lineup, but will their pitching be deep enough. Like the Phillies, the Mets figure to score so many runs that the pitching won't be an issue.

With Opening Day rapidly approaching, the Mets have had re-affirmed what they have known all along: Their questionable pitching is what will carry them this summer.

In Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, David Wright, Cliff Floyd and Xavier Nady, the Mets have the potential of five 25-homer bats in the heart of their order.

They'll score a lot of runs, but there's also the potential of giving a lot back because there are questions, one through five, in the rotation: Pedro Martinez anticipates pitching with soreness in his big right toe all season; 40-year-old Tom Glavine was a .500 pitcher last year; Steve Trachsel is coming off back surgery; Victor Zambrano is a career .500-caliber pitcher; and whoever the fifth starter will be – likely Brian Bannister - he will be relatively inexperienced.

Bannister could get the job because the Mets are worried about their bullpen, which will be without Juan Padilla for the season and doesn't have a legitimate left-handed setup arm. Heilman was effective out of the 'pen last year, especially against lefties, and the Mets are prepared to try it again.

Billy Wagner saved 38 games last year for Philadelphia, while the Mets' pen collectively blew 21 opportunities. Duaner Sanchez is penciled in for the eighth inning and Jorge Julio the seventh, but the Mets are wary of the latter. Heilman would deepen the 'pen because it would enable manager Willie Randolph to possibly drop down Sanchez to the seventh.

The Mets entered the off-season with four priorities and addressed them all, adding the closer Wagner, power-hitting first baseman Delgado, catcher Paul Lo Duca, and role players Julio Franco and Jose Valentin.

The Mets also dealt unhappy Mike Cameron for Nady, who'll start in right and send Victor Diaz to the bench.

General manager Omar Minaya spent much of his off-season alternatively trying to deal second baseman Kaz Matsui and saying he was happy with him in the infield. However, Matsui's knee injury will force him to the disabled list to start the season, and rookie Anderson Hernandez will play instead.

As of now, the Mets are hoping their offense - which they hope will include a more relaxed Beltran in his second season in New York - will produce enough to overcome their pitching deficiencies and other questions.

It is a formula a lot of teams have tried - most of them unsuccessfully.

Expect big things from… 3B David Wright is on the verge of going from star to superstar, with Scott Rolen-type potential at the position. Wright hit .306 with 27 homers and 102 RBI last year, and with a year of experience and protection from 1B Carlos Delgado, there's no telling what he could bring to the table.

Expect less and less from… LHP Tom Glavine is entering his walk year at 40 and coming off a 13-13 season. With RHP Pedro Martinez's health an issue and other questions throughout the rotation, there's more pressure for Glavine to be Glavine and pitch the way he did in the second half of last season, when he won five games.

It's Glavine For Openers

After denying the obvious all spring, the Mets finally announced Pedro Martinez would not the Opening Day starter and the honor would go to 40-year-old Tom Glavine.

Martinez has been taking it slowly with a sore right big toe and was scheduled to make his first exhibition start Sunday against Baltimore.

Barring a setback, he would start again five days later but would have built himself up to only three innings under game conditions.

Martinez said his stamina from throwing in the bullpen should have him up to five innings, but he was speculating.

"My body will tell me how long I can go," Martinez said.

Martinez's first objective is to pitch without discomfort and then concern himself with location and velocity.

Because the Mets have two candidates for the fifth starter role in Brian Bannister and Aaron Heilman, should Martinez feel any discomfort the prudent option would be to skip the three-time Cy Young Award winner and plug one of them into his slot.

ROSTER PROJECTIONS

We all know the Mets will score a lot of runs this year. We also know they figure to give up a lot. As it is with every team, every year, the Mets will go as far as their pitching takes them. And they head into the season with more questions than answers on the mound.

ROTATION:
1. LHP Tom Glavine
2. RHP Pedro Martinez
3. RHP Steve Trachsel
4. RHP Victor Zambrano
5. RHP Brian Bannister

The first three in their prime would probably be enough to compensate for the inexperience and inconsistency of the back end. However, Glavine is 40 and coming off a .500 year, Martinez has a bad toe he says will bother him all year, and Trachsel is coming off back surgery. Zambrano is so-so, and Bannister appears to have the inside track on the fifth starter role because deficiencies in the bullpen dictate a need for Heilman in that role.

BULLPEN:
HP Billy Wagner (closer)
RHP Duaner Sanchez
RHP Aaron Heilman
RHP Jorge Julio
RHP Chad Bradford
RHP Yusaku Iriki
LHP Royce Ring

Wagner saved 38 games last year for Philadelphia, the same number the Mets bullpen collectively saved. A more telling number, however, were the 21 blown saves. That's where the bridge comes in. Sanchez has been penciled in for the eighth inning and Julio the seventh, but the Mets don't know what to expect from the latter. Also, with Juan Padilla lost for the season and without a dominating situational lefty, Heilman can be moved back into the setup role he capably filled last year, which would push everybody down.

LINEUP:
1. SS Jose Reyes
2. CF Carlos Beltran
3. 1B Carlos Delgado
4. 3B David Wright
5. LF Cliff Floyd
6. RF Xavier Nady
7. C Paul Lo Duca
8. 2B Anderson Hernandez

Manager Willie Randolph refuses to say such things as bunching his speed at the top of the order - Reyes and Beltran - and separating lefty sluggers Delgado and Cliff Floyd are important, but that's only spring talk. Although there has been speculation Lo Duca would hit second, Beltran is the team's best natural number two hitter in that he combines power and speed, plus he can bunt and move runners over. Wright is poised for a monster year between Delgado and Floyd, and if everything goes according to plan, Nady and Lo Duca should have a lot of RBI opportunities before the bottom of the order hits.

RESERVES:
C Ramon Castro
INF Julio Franco
INF Jose Valentin
OF Victor Diaz
OF Endy Chavez

This could be the Mets' deepest bench in years, with the additions of Franco and Valentin key for the late innings. Diaz has power potential and Chavez speed.

Watch this new guy… 2B Anderson Hernandez figures to make the team because of Kaz Matsui's knee injury. As long as he makes the plays the Mets will be happy because they have enough offense to carry him. RHP Brian Bannister was ticketed for the minor leagues, but he's been outstanding this spring and weaknesses in the bullpen have created a need for him to be in the rotation and Aaron Heilman to work in relief.

The Trainer's Room:

RHP Pedro Martinez's sore right big toe is the key to the season. If he's ineffective, the Mets can kiss their season good-bye. RHP Juan Padilla is lost for the year with elbow surgery and 2B Kaz Matsui will open the season on the disabled list with a knee injury. LH closer Billy Wagner was held out five days with stiffness in the middle finger of his pitching hand. 1B Carlos Delgado has been bothered by tendinitis in his left elbow but said he has more range of motion.


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