Optimism. It's not a word often associated with the Mets these days. It seems every mention of the team in the mass media is wrapped in shades of gloom and doom. It's gotten to the point where the negativity itself is a subject of discussion.
However, among Mets fans themselves--the tough, weathered hombres we are--the vibe is a little different. There's just something about this 2011 team that draws us in, makes us wonder “What if...” with a gleam in our collective eye. Are the Mets going to win or even seriously compete for the division title? Not likely. Are they even going to make a wild card run into September? I doubt it. But here are a few reasons why the Mets faithful can safely think the worst is in the rear view mirror and baseball just might be fun again this summer (along with counterpoints that present the possibility that it won't be):
REASON #1: Sandy Alderson. The jury is still out on what the new G.M. will ultimately make of the team under his watch, but merely having a battle-proven, respected individual in the position is worth something. It's been so far, so good on the personnel moves made, and the reports of Alderson's reorganizing and focusing (notice I didn't say “re-” on that one) the franchise have been worthy of applause. If nothing else, we should be able to rest assured Alderson won't follow his manager on a road trip to California just to fire him or go after a reporter in response to one of his underlings making an ass of himself.
WHY IT MAY NOT PAN OUT: Simple: It's just too early to tell. Is Alderson up to the task of managing a high-profile team in front of a ravenous media complex and fans prone to holding grudges against those who do them wrong? We don't know yet.
REASON #2: Terry Collins. When the twice-fired Collins was hired to manage the team, you could hear the proverbial crickets. Since then, however, he's won over fans and players alike. In stark contrast to the publicly aloof Jerry Manuel and the stoic Willie Randolph before him, Collins is a dynamo without an off-switch, someone you get the feeling has more than once slammed into one of those sliding glass doors at the grocery store before it had a chance to open. With the no-nonsense attitude of Gil Hodges and the energy of a tent revival preacher, Collins brings a completely new wrinkle to the clubhouse. He stresses playing ball the right way and as a team, and unlike Randolph or Manuel, you actually get the impression that he means it. In short, Collins possesses that abstract quality every Mets fan has been clamoring for: he's “fiery.” It's hard to say Collins is the sole provocateur, but in listening and watching Carlos Beltran (when did he get so talkative?) and David Wright lately, it appears some of that elusive “edge” this era's Mets have been missing may finally be on the way. Putting it bluntly, the very things that got Collins run out of Houston and Anaheim are likely the very things the Mets need right about now.
WHY IT MAY NOT PAN OUT: That edge may be on the way, but when will it actually arrive? Also, while Collins' full-throttle style may be infectious now, what happens when the team hits a skid? The possibility of the rah-rah juice eventually being replaced with rolling eyes looms large.
REASON #3: Health. A season with neither Jose Reyes nor Carlos Beltran missing large chunks of it due to injury has every potential to pay big dividends for the Mets. Will that happen? Nobody can say, but the law of averages has to catch up eventually. I know everyone's eyes are on Reyes, but to me, Beltran's is the more interesting case. Having experienced a long, roundabout road to recovery from his 2009 injury as well as having surrendered his center field spot & likely auditioning for a future D.H. role, Beltran has every incentive to approach the season as the marathon it is with Collins and the coaching staff following suit. If giving Beltran one day a week off means he doesn't have to miss 2 or 3 weeks at a time, the decision is a no-brainer. And speaking of brains, Jason Bay playing more than 95 games in his Mets sophomore season sure would help a lot.
WHY IT MAY NOT PAN OUT: The Mets are due for a break, but that doesn't mean they'll get one. Beltran's making Opening Day just under the wire and Bay's already flirting with the DL.
REASON #4: The pitching. Sure, there's no Johan, no shutdown ace. That stinks. But what we do have in the way of a rotation is a group of guys who, judging from the previous performances of the returnees and the Spring performances of the additions, isn't exactly shabby. The prospect of older and wiser versions of Mike Pelfrey, Jon Niese, and R.A. Dickey is a promising one. Young and Capuano have been pleasant surprises in Port St. Lucie. On paper, this group certainly isn't the murderer's row the Phillies have assembled, but you don't play the games on paper. This has every chance of being a solid 1-5, especially for the Mets' purposes if the rest of the lineup can stay on the field and out of the doctors' offices.
The bullpen, a maddening Achilles' heel for the Mets in recent memory, is actually looking like a positive as things wind down on Florida's East Coast. The entire pen has pitched well and the final choices turning out to be difficult ones.
WHY IT MAY NOT PAN OUT: Much like you don't play the games on paper, you don't play them last season or in a minor-league park in March, either. While fans who follow every outing see definite signs and reasons to think the pitching will hold its own, from a distance the same group looks like a staff held together with bent-up clothes hangers and duct tape.
(For the love of all that is good, though, can SOMEBODY please get that no-hitter out of the way? It'd make our season regardless of whatever else happens.)
REASON #5: Oliver Perez. He's gone. No matter what else does or doesn't happen in 2011, there will be no discussion of “Good Ollie” vs. “Bad Ollie” or his refusal to go to Buffalo or a wasted roster spot. By that measure alone, this year will be better than last.
WHY IT MAY NOT PAN OUT: Perez has joined the Nationals and has been sent to AAA. If the Nationals find a way to fix him...oh, who am I kidding? There's no down side to this one.