In their first game against the Philadelphia Phillies -- heavily favored to win the National League East title, if not the whole shebang -- the New York Mets, widely regarded as something of a joke, made the Phillies look like Little Leaguers.
Cole Hamels, one-fourth of the most vaunted pitching rotation since the 1990s Atlanta staffs (at least), was particularly abused by the Mets last night, giving up six runs in the process of getting kayoed in the third inning. The Phillies' particular abuser was giant right-hander Chris Young, who's been limited by shoulder injuries to just six major-league wins in the last two seasons, but tossed 5-1/3 solid innings against Philadelphia in his Mets debut to earn the victory.
Granted, we may probably guess that Hamels will finish the season with better statistics than Young, and that the Phillies will finish the season with more wins than the Mets.
Do the Mets have to be a joke, though? Should they completely give up, in early April, on perhaps making some noise in the Wild Card standings?
I am not convinced that they should.
Let's look at their starting pitchers. Yes, Johan Santana is out of action, indefinitely. But when he was healthy a few years ago, Chris Young pitched in an All-Star Game. You might not trust knuckleball pitchers, but R.A. Dickey posted a 2.84 ERA last season and, in his first start this season, picked up right where he left off. Young Jonathon Niese is still learning how to pitch in the majors, but pitched quite well last season -- 3.38 ERA -- before a late-season fade that might have simply been the result of fatigue. And Mike Pelfrey, the nominal ace of the staff, won 15 games last year.
The Mets obviously can't match the Phillies' rotation, but New York's quartet is far from a joke.
Speaking of quartets, how about this one: Carlos Beltran, David Wright, Jose Reyes, Ike Davis?
Not so long ago, Beltran, Wright, and Reyes were each considered among the very best players in the National League. Remember that? You should. Beltran last played brilliantly in 2009, Reyes in 2008, and Wright drove in 103 runs just last season. Meanwhile, Ike Davis played well as a 23-year-old rookie last season and figures to play a little better this season.
Not good enough? Well, perhaps we should make our quartet a quintet, with the addition of unheralded second baseman Brad Emaus. While nobody expects him to follow in the footsteps of fellow Rule 5 second baseman Dan Uggla, Emaus does have talent and might well garner some Rookie of the Year support at season's end.
Whether Emaus thrives or not, his presence in the Mets' lineup points to one more important consideration ... The Mets' revamped front office is loaded with executive talent. If anyone can turn the Mets into contenders within just a year or two, it's probably Sandy Alderson and the people he has surrounded himself with.
The New York Mets aren't going to win 90 games this season. But you'll take them lightly at your peril.