Team strength: The Mets scored 834 runs last season, the second-highest total in franchise history and the third-highest total in the National League. But their offense went on the fritz in early September, producing merely 120 runs in the final 40 games. The club believes the addition of Moises Alou will restore the production that was eroded by a two-month susceptibility to left-handed pitching. The regular batting order has lefty-righty balance -- three switch-hitters, three right-handed hitters and two left-handed hitters -- as well as power, speed, increased patience, savvy and Jose Reyes, who may be the most dynamic offensive player in the league. A 900-run season is possible if Shawn Green does experience the renaissance his mid-March suggested.
Achilles' heel: The worst kind of liability -- shaky pitching -- could turn the Mets into the Rangers and be their undoing in 2007. Their rotation is manned by pitchers shrouded in questions. Is this the year Tom Glavine or Orlando Hernandez begins to act his age? Was the hint of renaissance provided last season by Oliver Perez real or eyewash? Are John Maine and Mike Pelfrey ready to make 30 starts in the big leagues? And until Duaner Sanchez recovers fully and Guillermo Mota is reinstated, the bullpen isn't without questions.
And the most daunting question of all: Whither Pedro?
The scouts say everything has to go right for the Mets for the staff to be an asset.
Top newcomer: Alou is a critical addition. The Mets need him to play more than the 98 games he played last season with the Giants, and provide the run production and protection for David Wright. Alou's slow spring hardly has been encouraging. But if he produces at the same rate he produced last year and remains healthy, the offense ought to make the jobs of the Mets' pitchers easier.
Ready to make The Leap: Pelfrey has talent and now, he will have opportunity, too. What he lacks is professional experience -- he has pitched merely 117 2/3 innings since being selected in the first round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft. The sense is that he'll be fine by June, and that the growing pains won't be too bad before then. If he stumbles, the Mets will likely have a replacement.
On the hot seat: The offense is so deep, no one player has to carry the load. But the pitching staff could become a house of cards. The Mets are relying on Glavine to be the stabilizer at age 41. So there is some heat on him. His quest for his 300th victory won't necessarily be a burden, but it won't make his job any easier.
You can bank on: Reyes, Wright and the Carlos Brothers -- Beltran and Delgado. Whether Wright bats fifth or second, the four of them constitute a formidable force that will drive this team into contention. Unless Phillies left fielder Pat Burrell returns to top form, the top five -- or four -- spots in the Mets' order will be the most productive in the National League and fuel the team's push toward a postseason repeat. And even if Burrell does regain his form, the brilliance of Reyes will make the Mets' offense special.
Litmus test: How the Mets fare in June. Beginning June 5, they play the Phillies at home, the Tigers, Dodgers and Yankees on the road, the Twins, A's and Cardinals at home and the Phillies in Philly -- 25 games in a 27-day sequence that reaches into July. The Mets had better have their act together. They have 56 games to prepare.
Games you don't want to miss:
Phillies, April 9-12, 16-17: Five of the Mets' first 14 games are against the tough-talking Phillies, who, regardless, ought to be a more challenging opponent.
Yankees, May 18-20: The first Subway Series. The Mets are the only National League team that plays the Yankees more than three times.
Phillies, Sept. 14-16: The last time the Phillies are in town.