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Can The Mets Contend?

Opening Day is always a day for baseball fans to dream, which is especially true for Met supporters who hope to wash away the bad taste of 2009 in their second season at Citi Field. Truth be told, there is talent on this roster and a resolve in the locker room to prove the critics wrong. And if we have learned anything about sports this season, with teams like Butler and the New Orleans Saints making bold statements, talented players with a lot to prove can be mighty dangerous.

But does this roster have enough talent to contend in an NL East that seems to get tougher every year? When you break this team down and see they have an ace in Santana, a lock-down closer in Francisco Rodriguez and a solid corps of hitters, you get the feeling that the talent is there and all they need is health and a little luck. But they also need complimentary players like Luis Castillo and Jeff Francoeur to perform -- and then there is the $64,000 question: Do they have enough starting pitching?

Still, most teams in the National League have the same issues: questionable starting pitching depth and the bridge to their closer in the bullpen. Some contenders like the Giants and Phils even have serious questions with their closer. The D-Backs need a healthy Brandon Webb, the Dodgers need to see if Chad Billingsley can pitch a full season, the Phils need to see who the real Cole Hamels is, the Brewers need to see if Randy Wolf is really worth $10 million a year, and the Braves need to be sure Billy Wagner can close all year coming off Tommy John surgery.

The Mets have a rock-solid lineup (once Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran return), an ace and a shut-down closer. If I were a general manager and were given that to start, I’d take it. Remember this is virtually the same team that won 89 games in 2008 with Jason Bay and Jeff Francoeur replacing Carlos Delgado and Ryan Church and with K-Rod replacing, well, Luis Ayala.

Injuries have been blamed for the Mets' disastrous 2009 season, but that's no convenient excuse. It is a disservice to the caliber of players the Mets lost to think Delgado, Reyes, and Beltran could be easily replaced. We are talking about All-Star players here, not journeymen.

Pick any team in the National League -- for argument sake, the Braves. Take Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, and Nate McClouth away for the final four months of the season. What do you think would happen? How about Utley, Howard, and Ibanez from the Phillies? Do you think Rollins and Werth could carry their lunch?

When you really get down to it, 2009 was all about injuries and the rest of it is just conversation. Do the Mets have issues? Sure they do, especially in the starting rotation, but that makes them no different than most teams in the senior circuit. It also makes them very capable of earning a playoff spot if two of their three question marks in the rotation come through. Can they? I wouldn't bet against it.


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