Potential. The dictionary defines the word as “possible, as opposed to actual; a latent excellence or ability that may or may not be developed.” Every baseball team starts off the year with the potential for greatness. All spring long you hear mangers speculating on how, “The 3 through 7 hitters in the lineup have the potential to hit 25 or more home runs a piece.” “This pitching staff can have 3 guys on it with 200 innings pitched and 200 strikeouts.” “If he shows a little more discipline at the plate, he could steal 50 bases.” Or my favorite: “If everyone plays up to their potential, this team could go all the way.”
The Mets are no exception. Imagine the heights they could reach if every player played to his potential. The Mets would be in the playoffs every year. However, the “potential” list is long for New York and the unfortunate thing about potential is that some things are realistically achieved whereas other things, sadly, never come to fruition. In this case, the longer the “potential” list means the more things that have to go the Mets way which also makes their ascent to the top of the division that much more difficult.
If the Mets are to make a run at the division, what are the things that have to go right this season that didn’t happen last year?
- David Wright needs to find his power stroke.
- Johan Santana needs an injury-free season.
- Jason Bay needs to perform as well as he did in Boston last year.
- Jose Reyes needs to stay off the DL.
- Carlos Beltran needs to get back sooner rather than later and play up to his abilities.
- Francisco Rodriguez needs to look more like the first half closer from last season rather than the second half guy who resembled more of a punching bag than a pitcher.
When looking over this list, these items seem doable. They fall within the realm of possibility where potentially all of these things could happen. Do we need all of these things to happen for the Mets to have success? No, of course not. But we do need most them to happen.
However, the list of things that have to go right unfortunately doesn’t stop there. Let’s go on:
- Mike Pelfrey needs to find a way to pitch like he did the second half of 2008 and not the pitcher who seemingly lacked confidence all of last season.
- Oliver Perez needs to find a way to get his pitches over the plate, focus and somehow earn at least half of the $12.0 million he is earning this year.
- John Maine needs to stay away from the DL as well but also find a way to pitch like he did in 2006. Even in games where he “doesn’t feel it”, needs to find a way to summon his inner Tom Seaver and pitch with some conviction.
- Ryota Igarashi and Hisanori Takahashi need to quickly assimilate to American baseball if they make the final cuts, but if they don’t, the rest of the bullpen will need to be prepared to throw a lot of lifelines to a sinking Met rotation.
- The Mets will need to find a way to generate runs with consistent output from Daniel Murphy, Luis Castillo and Jeff Francoeur.
The items on this list look a little harder to obtain. In fact, the pitching woes that followed Pelfrey, Perez and Maine last year would not look as insurmountable if their spring performances gave the Mets even a glint of something to be hopeful about. But these three guys produced ERA’s in spring training that are making Met fans long for Jose Lima and Victor Zambrano. Pelfrey (ERA- 7.96), Perez (ERA – 8.66) and Maine (ERA – 7.94) could all be excused from these abysmal performances if this were the beginning of March. But Opening Day is less than a week away and other than Santana, the pitching is a major concern because there has been nothing positive to build upon.
Pelfrey has been working on a splitter this March and at this point should abandon the experiment because for a sinker ball pitcher to have allowed 8 home runs this spring is cause for concern. Sure, Florida has gusty winds and the ball can carry, but Pelfrey has been averaging 15 hits per nine innings. Most people couldn’t go to the batting cages and hit that well.
This season the Mets have asked Perez to throw more strikes. Not sure why they waited to this season to tell him to throw more strikes because it would have come in handy last season or the season before. If these are the nuggets of instruction the Mets are getting from their pitching coaches, I certainly can suit up and become the hitting coach. I can offer such gems of advice as telling the batters to “make better contact and don’t swing at balls out of the strike zone”. As a consequence to this plea to throw the ball over the plate, Perez’s velocity has dipped below 90 mph and while he may throw more strikes, his pitches may become more hittable.
At first base, Daniel Murphy has a sprained MCL that will keep him out of the lineup for 2-6 weeks. Normally, this would be terrible news for a team to lose their first basemen at the start of the season but this spring Murphy has looked completely bewildered at the plate hitting just .196 with an OBP of .228. How much worse could Mike Jacobs do if that’s the level he has to rise above?
As we head into the final days of spring training and Opening Day looms in the very, very near future, the Mets will leave Port St. Lucie behind. All of the statistics that have accumulated over the past month will conveniently (and mercifully) disappear. But in a spring where the Mets desperately needed to create distance between the present team and the agonizing, injury-ridden team of last year, they really only succeeded in reinforcing what was already suspected: that there are gaping holes in this team. There are just too many players who must step it up and significantly raise their level of play from a year ago to reach their potential if the Mets have any chance to compete this season. Right now, it seems like a lot to potentially ask for.