"The reason we all like to think so well of others is that we are all afraid for ourselves. The basis of optimism is sheer terror."Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1891
There are two ways to approach Spring Training:
1. Hysterical with joy or misery with every meaningless victory or loss regardless of whether or not your team fields its starting 8 on the field or a loose collection of minor league hopefuls getting some seasoning, OR
2. Complete indifference to results provided that at least one near-nobody comes out of nowhere to make the roster in impressive and unexpected fashion, possibly filling in a hole, and none of the guys you will expect to rely on throughout the course of the season suffer some serious injury before the games even begin to matter.
And where hysterical meets indifference, that's where you'll find the Army marching in place waiting out these miserable days on Optimism Boulevard, waiting for the penny to drop and sniffing the pauperism in the air the like a jackal sniffs a carcass for a sign of life.
I say that because the stench of 2007 is still out there intermingling within the infamously warm Spring air in a Florida all the blogosphere is writing about. I don't have to go to Florida to be poignantly reminded about The Collapse to get a whiff of the laughing gas called Johan Santana.
Now nobody wants to read about some Billy No Mates sort of attitude stinking up a perfectly good little spring time sanguinity and quite frankly, if you can't put aside your misguided sense of reality for a few weeks before the season even starts, why you must be in wonderfully Cool Britania where the rain pisses down and the wind gusts miserably in from the North Sea or Cardiff Bay or the English Channel, all equally miserable wet winds on a land surrounded by miscreant bodies of charmless water, where the idea of sunshine and warmth is like some prehistoric memory.
Trudging around in an anorak every day is not the way to imagine the optimism of the Mets Spring.
Which is why I am not chasing dreams in Florida and deluding myself into thinking Johan Santana can play first base and bat clean up.
So whilst marching in place here rather than jetting off to Florida to follow my team as it puts itself through its embryonic paces, whilst suffering this miserable English weather in lieu of basking in glorious early March Floridian warmth, watching batting practice under the burning sun at Tradition Field or getting drunk on cans of watery lager with pensioners in Port St Lucie and taking cross-state bus rides to watch Mike Pelfrey nearly swallow or chew into oblivion his mouthpiece whilst easing another staccato 7 runs in 3 1/3 innings sort-of-outing, it isn't easy to make predictions about being the team to beat in the NL East.
Not every element of the team is in a state of flux, it just feels that way from afar.
For one, as unappetising as El Duque and Pelfrey are as fifth starters, Santana, Pedro and John Maine have done their part to offer encouragement as one of the more intimidating trios of starting pitchers in the National League, except for perhaps San Diego and Arizona.
Even Oliver Perez has typically toyed with a radical form of competence before making the predictable bounce back to mediocrity.
The starting rotation, with Pedro coming back and Santana delivered in a coup, is the strength, not the worry. Optimism Factor: A, no worries, mate.
The bullpen is a question mark, a seven-headed question mark. From the dog days of last August they were an emphatic failure; a 5.30 ERA after August 9th. This, on the heels of a 3.41 ERA before that.
Sure Billy Wagner can roll out a 1.29 ERA in Spring games that don't count or really matter but equally, to rely upon a closer with a history of gut checks that turn into abdominal cramps when the season is on the line, is a dangerous proposition.
And Duaner Sanchez, let's face it, hasn't been the set up guy we dreamt about two seasons ago in well, two seasons. His spring has not always been encouraging. But maybe he's simply working himself slowly up to speed or maybe he'll NEVER recapture that previously stunning form. The important scenario is that it doesn't matter too much for the Mets in the end, that others replace him and his return would be nothing but gravy, not a prayer in a season of desperation.
Oh the other hand, Pedro Feliciano and Aaron Heilman have combined to toss 16 scoreless innings all Spring which you can't really rely upon necessarily for encouragement but equally, which doesn't make you as miserable as you'd be if they were getting battered around like a Joe Calzaghi punching bag every outing.
Scott Schoenweiss also looks to have put aside his miserable 2007; 1 run allowed in 9 innings of work, even in Spring, for Schoenweiss, who would take any sign of encouragement he could get, this is a nice omen.
It might even be ok to read too much into righty Matt Wise's spring, 1 earned run in 9 1/3 innings. Wise is over as a free agent (for those of you who don't automatically recall his signing as the humdrum highlight of the pre-Johan off season.) As a Brewer, Wise has a 3.27 ERA in 33 innings against National League East teams in the last three seasons so if you're looking for something hopeful you can consider that record along with his Spring and then recollect that if Wise weren't here, the self-inflicted Met-Killah Guillermo Steroid Strikeout Mota might still be. Upgrade is thy name.
Jorge Sosa (1 earned run in 12 innings,) continues his conversion from a 13-3 starter in 2005 with the Braves to an unspecified role either as a long reliever, short reliever or, worst case scenario as we discover neither El Duque with his 100 year old bones of dust or Pelfrey and the cloud of baseless, optimistic dust, sputter and fall before they ever take off, the fifth starter.
But if we're looking deep into the pen, 7 deep, the battle for what might be the final spot, we see that Joe Smith and Brian Stokes have both looked pretty pedestrian thus far.
Smith, as we all know, started 2007 afire before mentally deep-frying and getting demoted to the minors. And Stokes was tied with good ole Chad Bradford in Baltimore for most relief losses last season so we can't be holding our collective breath for miracles poured from his arm.
Overall Optimism Factor: B minus. There's always the chance this could develop into a strength rather than the Achilles Heel it became last season but hopefully the weather in the bullpen will be more like Florida than England.
Only a week of fake worries to go before the worries become real...
Up Next...the batting order...