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My Return

Well, the past few weeks have been somewhat hectic. Apologies to all, the whole thing.

At present, both Garden residents are in the throes of contentious playoff races, and my Mets are embarrassing the city of Port St. Lucie in a 6-14-1 Grapefruit League season that has seen very little sound playing of the game of baseball.

We have heard Willie Randolph discuss the potential tightening of camp, and with good reason. The notion that spring training games are meaningless has become a popular refrain in my household, and I have too often used the excuse that non-roster players are coughing up late-inning leads.

To a certain extent, these preseason games are meaningless, as in the three other major sports. There are always constants within this game: Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez will hit 30 HR and drive in 100 runs, Tom Glavine will log 185 innings, and one or more of the former Marlins young guns (Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett, Carl Pavano, Brad Penny) will spend time on the DL.

Nevertheless, maybe some of the sloppiness and poor offensive/pitching showing by expected contributors to the squad can actually be seen as a legitimate precursor to a regression for the Mets this year. They will lack the rotation force that is Pedro Martinez, and the bullpen can be expected to decline with the departures of Darren Oliver and Chad Bradford and the news that Guillermo Mota (steroid suspension), Duaner Sanchez (3 A.M. munchies), and Juan Padilla (real injury) will probably not be ready for opening day.

The starting rotation provides further cause for concern at first glance. Yet when one recalls that the Mets' opening day rotation of 2006, the dynasty-spawning season, included Victor Zambrano, Brian Bannister, and Steve Trachsel, it is hard to argue that this group is much worse. Moreover, Zambrano, Bannister, and Pedro were all injured by mid-May. Given that their replacements were such luminaries as Jose Lima, Jeremi (eventually Geremi) Gonzalez, Alay Soler, and then-unknown John Maine, can we really be all that disappointed with this year's crop?

As far as I can tell, this season's rotation will be unfortunately troubled by an inevitable regression from John Maine: his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) was a godly .225 last year, and Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA forecasts him for a more reasonable .276 BABIP this year. Maine's high home run rate does not bode well for him either, and one must inquire about whether his strategy of pitching with fastballs high in the strike zone will continue to hold up for him this year.

I worry further about Oliver Perez, for the most part because he has shown tantalizing potential upon which he has failed to deliver. Perez is more or less the Mets' version of Rangers C Matt Cullen. He has a ton of ability, but he often tends to display it against inferior competition. Last summer, I took a fiery and enraged approach to dismantling Perez, but I have a sliver of hope that he can develop into a semi-dependable starter.

The major issue for Perez is not his stuff, but rather the issue is his pitch selection. He oddly nibbles early in the count, despite having a filthy slider that baffles hitters from both sides of the plate and good heat. But when Perez gets behind, he grooves a sweet batting practice fastball that even Neifi Perez could drive over the centerfield fence. Unfortunately, when he doesn't groove that fastball, he just walks the hitters and grooves another fastball to the next guy.

Offensively, the Mets are stuck with a new set of problem child outfielders: Shawn Green and Moises Alou. The hardly dynamic AARP members have propelled themselves to absolutely woeful batting lines of .174/.208/.348 and .182/.229/.242, respectively. Don't forget that those statistics include a recent hot streak by Green.

In their places are younger upstarts Ben Johnson and Lastings Milledge, previously thought to be shopping for long-term mortgages on New Orleans real estate. Now Milledge's .375/.468/.550 line is the best in camp, and Johnson's .268/.333/.439 is not too shabby either. Add in the strong spring showings of Endy Chavez and David Newhan, and one must be pressed to ask if we really have to suffer through a whole season of "veteran outfielders" or "real team guys."

I would be inclined to say that the real spring training begins tomorrow, but that date is entirely arbitrary. The season begins April 1. Let's panic now, before the games actually count.


Rangers vs. A TEAM WITH UPSIDE at the Garden tonight. It's on OLN or VS or whatever the channel will be named next year. Seriously, isn't it weird thinking that earlier this year the Devils and Penguins were in the Rangers' dust? Oh, well, remember when Brendan Shanahan had by far the most goals in the league?

Still depressing. I have the Sidney Crosbys winning 5-3.

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