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2008 Season Preview: Inside The New York Mets

They’re the team we hate. We can’t stand these bums, their old stadium, their illiterate fans and their over-the-top city. We have gritty, down-and-dirty Bruce Springsteen; they have showman, posing Billy Joel. They are the New York Mets.

But hey, they are good. We all know that. Last season we showed we were a game better, beating them out in one of baseball’s most storied collapse/comebacks. But 2008 is a new year, folks, and those bums from Queens are ready for us.

I did a Q&A with maybe the most informed of all Met followers: Matt Cerrone of MetsBlog, who took time out of his busy pre-Opening Day schedule to give us the dish on the Mets rotation, their “house of cards” lineup and if they really are the new Team to Beat.

We all know Johan Santana is good for 20 wins and an ERA hovering around 3.00. And we’ve heard Pedro Martinez looks good this spring. How good will they look this year?

I expect both of them to look great — assuming they remain healthy.

Martinez, or “Picasso,” as he’s starting to be called by some Mets fans, has shown he can be successful regardless of velocity. In fact, the softer he tends to pitch, the more creative he becomes. Santana is Santana, who’ll get to face the seventh, eighth and ninth hitters in the National League, most of whom have never seen him before. He should do well enough to contend for a Cy Young award.

However, as a Mets fan, what I am most excited about is that these Martinez and Santana, combined with John Maine and Oliver Perez, should act as a pretty reliable firewall against any major losing streaks.

Out of David Wright, Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran, whose loss would be the most harrowing for the Mets?

Reyes, no doubt. Frankly, the team’s entire offense is a house of cards built directly on top of Reyes. End of story.

You’ve said you’d rather see Orlando Hernandez pitch as fifth starter as long as he’s healthy. When should Mike Pelfrey take over the job, and what happens if he struggles in AAA?

Pelfrey should take over the job when he learns to pitch with some attitude, aggression and ego. I mean, in the last year, he’s been given three opportunities to take over the final spot in the rotation and he has fumbled the ball each time. If he can’t get it together to take hold of the job, how is he going to find the guts to strike out Ryan Howard with the bases loaded in a big game in September, you know what I mean? He’s got a world of potential, but until he learns to generate a little fire, he is always going to lose out to the Orlando Hernandez’s of the world.

What’s your take on Fernando Tatis — who has played all of 56 games since 2003 — getting the last hitting spot on the roster over the younger Ruben Gotay?

I am very disappointed to see Gotay go, especially to the Braves. I see Gotay in the same way I saw Melvin Mora, who the Mets traded in 2000 for Mike Bordick. This is not to say Gotay will be as good as Mora once was, it’s just that, like Mora, Gotay can hit in his sleep, but plays defense like he is sleeping, and so I expect the Mets to regret cutting him loose once day, because he is very good hitter.

I’m confused by Tatis. The team will tell you that Tatis is better suited for their roster right now than Gotay, because Tatis can hit lefties and can play the outfield, i.e., he is more versatile. The thing is, he doesn’t hit lefties any better than he hits righties, because he can barely hit at all. Also, I can play outfield. I mean, I can stand out there. It doesn’t mean I’ll be good at it. The same can sort of be said for Tatis, who’ll be fine as the 25th man on the roster. Gotay would have been better, though.

Throw it down right now: Are the Mets going to be the Team to Beat after all is said and done this season?

Sure, why not, though I expect the Phillies to win a lot of games, and I actually worry about the Braves as much as any other team in the league. I think the beauty of the NL East right now is that there is not just one really good team. I’d love to see an exciting, fun, dramatic pennant race, so I hope they’re all the teams to beat, with the Mets winning one more game then the rest.

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