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Tough Times Ahead for Manuel

Jeff Wilpon made it crystal clear after a horrible 2009 season when he demanded better things from both Jerry Manuel and Omar Minaya - and the Met manager will be the first of the two on the hot seat if the Mets get off to a poor start. The team plays 16 of its first 22 at Citi Field, which puts even more urgency on the team's performance in the opening weeks of the season.

And Manuel won't exactly have all his bullets in his holster when the Mets take the field on Opening Day. Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Kelvim Escobar and Daniel Murphy will all be on the sidelines. A horrible spring training report card for all of the Met starting pitchers hasn't helped either. In fact, Manuel saw enough in spring training to make him re-arrange his rotation in the first week of the season pushing Mike Pelfrey and Oliver Perez to the back end of the rotation.

"We need to get off to a good start but what we need more is consistency and so to merely focus on a good start is not enough," said Manuel. That's true, but a poor start could put Manuel in the eye of the storm. Ownership feels a $125 million payroll should be enough to, at the very least, compete for a playoff spot. The prevailing notion inside the organization is the talent is here to win and the way Manuel handles communication issues inside the clubhouse will be closely scrutinized.

There were times that a few eyebrows were raised when Manuel conducted his post-game media sessions -- especially when it came to handling issues about players that were in his doghouse. More specifically, his handling of the Ryan Church situation created a fractured relationship. And that was not the only issue. On numerous occasions he backpedaled on comments he had made the night before and such re-clarification of comments became an everyday occurrence. These issues got swept under the rug as the injuries mounted and the Met season went down the chute.

Without Reyes for the first week and without Beltran for at least the first month of the season, Manuel must get heavy contributions from David Wright and Jason Bay to carry the offensive load, especially since the Met rotation seems to be so razor thin.

It will be a slippery slope for Manuel if the Mets are sitting at 10-12 after 22 games especially considering the organization has surrounded the Met manager with a plethora of internal managerial replacements. And that is assuming Bobby Valentine does not somehow work himself into the mix.

Ordinarily, knee jerk reactions to April records do not happen in the sport of baseball. But after a 70-92 season following a year in which the Mets coughed up a playoff spot on the final day for the second straight year has made the Met fan base a testy group that may want the manager's scalp if things in 2010 start out badly.

And they may get their wish if the planets line up against Manuel, because ownership does not want to go through another season like last year.


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