Tuesday, April 03, 2007


What kind of fan are you?

My kind: worry wart.

The Mets opened their 2007 campaign Sunday with a neat 6-1 spanking of the "World Champion" St. Louis Cardinals, making the Cards' ace Chris Carpenter really get in touch with his inner .500 pitcher. Pretty much everyone up and down the Mets' lineup hit, the Mets' pitching looked good, and the defense was unbelievable.

Indeed, the Mets defensive play looked like a weeks' worth of Sports Center "Web Gems" for the entire Major Leagues. The Mets turned 4 lovely double plays, only one of which was routine, and one featuring a dive-and-glove-flip by 37-year-old Jose Valentin plus a kind of leaping wrist-toss by Jose Reyes on the relay throw.

40-year old Moises Alou made a diving catch to stop what would have been a key hit, and Carlos Beltran, in the same inning, gunned out the speedy David Eckstein at home plate with one of the most perfect throws you'll ever see: the ball went straight into the catcher's glove in tagging position, on a line -- no bounce.

All this defensive finesse is particularly impressive on the first day of the season, when lots of players are still working the kinks out. (Is that kind of solid-preseason preparation the kind of thing you can credit manager Willie Randolph with? I say: yes!)

You can't ask for more, and of course everyone is picking the Mets to win the division. But I'm a wood-toucher. The only weakness people talk about is the pitching, but I'm worried about the Mets' much-vaunted offense. Here are all the things that can go wrong.

If my "whale curve" thesis holds true, then Paul Loduca and Carlos Beltran are both due for significant declines in production. Beltran, 29, may have had his first spike year last year, and thus may never again reach last year's power numbers. LoDuca almost certainly had his second spike year last year and will never be that good again. It wouldn't be surprising for him to have his worst-ever season. Meanwhile, Carlos Delgado is a year older and will turn 35 this year. Can he continue to hit like a young man, or will he look like he did during his massive mid-season slump?

So, basically, the 2-3-4 hitters could have major falloffs in production. Reyes and Wright are good shots to continue to improve, but can they carry the team? The rest of the lineup -- fading stars Moises Alou (40), Shawn Green (34) and Jose Valentin (37), plus backup outfielder Endy Chavez whose .300 average last year was a revelation -- wouldn't really surprise anybody if they each batted around .220.

The only player on the roster who is on his career upside and could step up offensively is Lastings Milledge. But his playing time is going to be significantly checked by the "veterans' preferences" for Alou and Green, and Milledge would only take over after one or the other of them performed miserably for a couple of months. And of course, there's some chance that Mets management will panic and trade Milledge for some mediocre starting pitcher.

If all this bad stuff happened, the Mets would finish with 83-87 wins in third place.

Mark you, I don't predict any of these things, and I most certainly don't want them to happen. I love being wrong about this stuff. I'm just saying...

But I'm a wood-toucher.

Does B know? Not that there's anything wrong with that.
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