Saturday, March 31, 2012

Joey's Small Bites: Fearless Forecast For The 2012 Mets

Hey, everyone!  This is Joey Beartran.  After nearly six long months of waiting, the 2012 season is almost upon us.  Are you ready for some baseball?

I hope you’re looking forward to the 2012 season as much as I am.  What do you mean, no?  Surely, there must be something you’re looking forward to seeing the Mets accomplish in 2012?  Still no?

Aren’t you looking forward to the return of Banner Day?  What about the induction of John Franco into the Mets Hall of Fame?  (And no, before you ask, there is no truth to the rumor that Franco will come out of the bullpen during that game to pitch to Lance Berkman in a tight spot.)

Well, I’m certainly looking forward to the 2012 season.  In addition to all the new menu items at Citi Field, (buttermilk-marinated fried chicken with gooey mac and cheese and cornbread?  Yes, please!) the 2012 season has plenty of storylines worth talking about.

Will Johan Santana return to form after missing the entire 2011 season?  How will Ruben Tejada perform at shortstop after replacing one of the most popular players in Mets history?  Is Andres Torres this decade’s Rey Sanchez, merely holding a spot warm until Kirk Nieuwenhuis is ready to take over as the Mets’ everyday centerfielder?  Will the Mets score some runs for R.A. Dickey before he’s forced to write a book about his lack of run support?  And is this the year the Mets finally pitch that first no-hitter?

I don’t need a Magic 8 Ball like my colleague has used in the past to predict the outcome of the Mets season.  Instead, I’ll just consult with my baseball cognoscenti to come up with my predictions for the 2012 Mets.  Baseball predictions are never an exact science, but just like Carlos Beltran’s health, I feel 85% confident that my predictions will become reality for the Mets in 2012.  So what are we waiting for?  Let’s get this prediction party started!

My crystal ball atop a replica of Shea Stadium will help me forecast the Mets' future.

In their 51st season of existence and third ballpark, a Met will finally hit three home runs in a home game.  This will finally put an end to Gary Cohen and Howie Rose talking about how no Met has ever swatted three longballs at home.  However, they will probably move on to discussing how no right-handed batter has ever collected five hits for the Mets in a home game.  For the record, six Mets have five-hit games at home, all at Shea Stadium.  Four of them swung from the left side of the plate (John Milner, Rusty Staub, Dave Magadan and Carlos Delgado) and the other two were switch hitters (Wally Backman and Jose Reyes).  You can look it up!

Daniel Murphy will break the single season club record for doubles.  Prior to 2012, only six Met hitters had ever accumulated 40 doubles in a season and all of them were either right-handed batters or switch hitters.  Murphy will become the first left-handed swinger to eclipse the 40 double mark (John Olerud is the current single season leader with 39 in 1999) and will then double his pleasure by surpassing one-season wonder Bernard Gilkey, who set the franchise record with 44 two-baggers in 1996.  Gilkey might have surpassed his mark in 1997, but was never the same after being hit in the head by a fly ball during a close encounter at Shea Stadium.

It's keep your eye on the ball, Bernard.  Not keep your head on it.

Jonathon Niese will make the National League All-Star team.  He will also become only the tenth pitcher in team history (after Tom Seaver, Jon Matlack, Jerry Koosman, Dwight Gooden, Sid Fernandez, David Cone, Al Leiter, Pedro Martinez and Johan Santana) and fifth southpaw (Matlack, Koosman, Leiter and Santana were the others) to strike out 200 batters in a single season.  As a result, his new nose will be voted team MVP.

Jason Bay will have his finest season as a Met, hitting .270 with 21 HR and 80 RBI.  Of course, astute fans will realize that these were the exact numbers produced by Jeff Kent in 1993 and will continue to be upset at Bay for not living up to his contract and for reminding them of Kent.  The sensitive Bay responds by promising a Rico Brogna-type season in 2013, wisely remembering that Brogna was actually liked at Shea Stadium despite producing Kent-like numbers during his one full season in New York (.289, 22 HR, 76 RBI in 1995).

Frank Francisco will go 20-for-20 in saves by early July, but when a shocking exposé reveals that he is actually Armando Benitez’s second cousin, once removed, the pressure of having to perform like his family member will cause Francisco to wilt in the summer heat.  Francisco will indeed pitch like Benitez, protecting a few three-run ninth inning leads against the non-contending Pirates and Astros, before blowing saves against the contending Phillies and Marlins to eliminate any hopes of the Mets claiming the second wild card spot.

After spending most of the season below .500, Terry Collins motivates the team by telling them he will end his unintentional tribute to Steve Urkel by not wearing his uniform pants so high, but only if the team can finish the season with a .500 record.  The team responds with a hot streak in September to pull to within one game of .500 entering the season finale in Miami.  But after an unexpected pep talk from his cousin Armando, Frank Francisco blows the save in the team’s final game, resulting in an 80-82 final record (and clinching a playoff berth for the Marlins).  Collins is then seen giving Benitez an undisclosed amount of money after the game, thanking him for his surprise appearance.

Well, that’s it for my 2012 predictions.  Which ones will come true?  Which ones will you wish you had thought of first?  For that, we’ll have to wait until October 3, when the Mets’ 50th anniversary season comes to a close.  But one thing’s for sure.  The Mets will be a fun team to watch in 2012.

Over the past three seasons, the Mets have gone from being an overpriced team of underachievers to a young team playing above its collective head.  They might not be ready to compete in the National League East yet, but Terry Collins will make sure that all 25 players on the roster give their best effort on the field, with or without the help of Armando Benitez. 

Before long, the Mets will be Amazin’ again.  But for now, ya gotta believe that the team is headed in the right direction, even if that direction is temporarily keeping them near the bottom of the NL East.  So try not to pay too much attention to the standings and enjoy one game at a time.  Somewhere along the way, the Mets will give you a reason to smile.  I’m 85% sure of that.

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