TAMPA, Fla. – You have to hand it to the Mets, who obviously aren't afraid to crank up the propaganda machine in the NL East. David Wright and Johan Santana were both talking about the World Series this week - as in a Mets-as-National-League champs scenario.
Is this ludicrous? Sure it is. The Mets aren't going to beat the Phillies in 2010. No one in the league has the talent or the guts to do that. But the Mets deserve some credit for their audacity, brushing aside last year's 92-loss season as if it never happened.
It was Wright who delivered the first salvo on Wednesday in Port St. Lucie, telling reporters, "We feel like we're going to go out there and win the National League East and go deep in the playoffs and win the World Series."
A day later it was Santana's turn.
"'My plan is to definitely win the World Series," he said. "That's what we want to do, that's what we got in mind."
There are two explanations for these jarring statements. First, Wright may believe it's now his job to serve as the Mets' spokesman, given that Carlos Delgado has moved on. The other elder statesman, Carlos Beltran, will be on the disabled list for the first six weeks of the season. And he was hardly Winston Churchill.
So it's left to Wright to provide the leadership - and, let's face it, it's better for him to say the Mets are going to win their first World Series since 1986 than to remind fans of the number of upgrades to the starting rotation (zero) and bullpen (zero) this winter.
Reason No. 2 is Santana's obvious enthusiasm about his elbow, which is recovering quickly from offseason surgery. He feels so strong, he can't imagine anything standing between him and October. This simple, narrow confidence is what makes Santana such a fierce competitor.
Both he and Wright are paid to be tough, resilient. But a little perspective wouldn't have hurt, either. Wright could've made his point by saying, "with everyone healthy, we're going to be right there." And the Phillies would've respectfully agreed.
But Wright loses much of his credibility when he says the 2010 Mets are "basically the same core group of guys (from) 2006" who got to within one pitch of the World Series.
Actually, this year's edition bears no resemblance to the '06 team. All that's left are Wright, Beltran and Jose Reyes. There's not much corporate muscle-memory of the better times. More recently, the Phillies have done more than just catch and pass the Mets in the East, they've become the league's most fearless team.
But Santana, for one, is unafraid of his division rivals. (Would you expect anything less from a two-time Cy Young Award winner?) It doesn't matter that Santana's elbow was cut for the second time in his career, or that his 2009 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) was higher than any of the last seven seasons..
Ask Santana who's the East's best pitcher right now, and he doesn't miss a beat.
"Santana" is what he says, conspicuously omitting Roy Halladay's name from the discussion. This, too, stretches Santana's credibility to its limits. You could ask 20 talent evaluators who they preferred in a face-off between the Phillies' and Mets' aces and, chances are an overwhelming majority would pick Halladay.
Until Santana proves he's healthy and has regained his killer changeup, Halladay has the better out-pitch, the cut-fastball, has a better secondary pitch, the two-seam fastball, and is coming to the National League after blistering the AL to the tune of a 2.87 ERA in 2009.
There are maybe two lineups in the NL that are capable of pressuring Halladay -- and one of them is the team he plays for, the Phillies. But even if you want to be generous to the Mets and call Halladay-Santana a draw, who else on that staff is capable of fulfilling Wright's prediction?
PECOTA, the sabermetric system that predicts baseball outcomes with general success, envisions the Mets winning only 77 games. Vegas is more generous, setting 89 wins as the over-under. It all depends on the Mets' health.
But the disabled list has also become a company-wide crutch. Team officials say last year's run of injuries motivates them now - as if the collapses of 2007 and 2008 didn't already? The Mets have tried that tactic without success. That's why Wright's and Santana's comments, no matter how well intentioned, only leave the Mets open to ridicule.
Through no fault of the players or even the general manager, Omar Minaya, the Mets failed to address their most glaring need, starting pitching. And their ill-advised reliance on Kelvim Escobar to handle the eighth inning is now vapor, as well, now that Escobar apparently has reported a bad arm.
There are red flags everywhere, which was reason enough for Wright and Santana to start chirping. The Mets need a postseason for a number of reasons: the Wilpon family could use the extra revenue stream, the fans need the psychological boost and New York needs two vibrant teams. The world, after all, can't belong solely to the Yankees.
So Wright and Santana can be forgiven for the over-heated imagery. Call it the audacity of hope.