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Annual visceral, small-sample-sized observations from spring training, Part II

Detroit Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder puts his

Detroit Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder puts his hat on against the Philadelphia Phillies during a spring training game. (March 9, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

This was a far shorter visit than my first - three days, as opposed to 14, and I focused on the Mets, as opposed to jumping from team to team and piling up oodles miles on the rental car.

Nevertheless, spring training always affords a different, arguably closer look than once we get into the regular season, so I enjoy dissecting what I saw. Away we go:

1. Mets. If you read Terry Collins' rant from yesterday, then you know things aren't going very well. This is a team saddled with major depth issues and facing the reality that last year's third- and fifth-place teams improved dramatically over the winter.

In some ways, this club figures to be satisfying to watch, in the way last year's was, too. They'll score some runs - Lucas Duda hit a monster homer at Lakeland on Monday - and they should protect most of the leads they get. You like Collins' energy, and you like Sandy Alderson's process, even if you're not going to agree with every decision.

The cruel irony for Mets fans, of course, is they can punish themselves wondering how the 2006-08 Mets would have performed if Alderson had been calling the shots then _ and if he had been armed with the Wilpons' pre-Madoff-arrest resources.

Hard to see how this doesn't wind up being a very rough year for the Mets. And if Collins is going to lose it over a string of injuries? That's just going to make it rougher.

--Mike Pelfrey pitched all right yesterday. The Mets aren't optimistic that Pelfrey will be much better than he was last year.

--Carlos Beltran predicted that New York will be challenging for Andres Torres, the man occupying the Citi Field centerfield spot that Beltran used to patrol. Remember yesterday, when I asked you how you would treat Beltran upon his return to Mets territory? It turned out I was asking the wrong question. I should have asked, "How large do you think the Cardinals fan contingent will be at the game?"

It was enormous, arguably the majority in the ballpark. Which explains why Beltran received a polite reception, while reigning World Series MVP David Freese got the hero treatment.

2. Marlins. Over the winter, I wondered - based on a hunch, more than any evidence - whether one of the Marlins, Braves or Nationals would bomb this year and perhaps even fall behind the Mets. The Marlins seemed like a strong "worst-case scenario" candidate, what with the hiring of the combustible Ozzie Guillen, the shifting of the behaviorally challenged Hanley Ramirez to third base and the acquisition of the injury-prone Jose Reyes to play shortstop.

At this point, however, I don't see it. Ramirez seems to be giving third base a real run, and Guillen seems renovated by his new workplace setting. The arrival of free agent Mark Buehrle shouldn't be underestimated, either.

Sure, the Marlins are undefeated. It's easy to be happy now. But I can't see this team falling to pieces.

3. Tigers. As Collins pointed out ruefully yesterday, the Tigers are not only stocked, but they're healthy, as well. They have concerns about their starting pitching depth, and their farm system isn't very good, relative to the industry.

But who else in the AL Central is even going to make Detroit sweat? Maybe Minnesota, if Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau actually stay healthy, the Twins' starting rotation reverts to the successful strike-throwing approach of the pre-2011 years and the bullpen dramatically improves. That's a lot of ifs, though. More likely, Detroit can treat the regular season like a rehearsal for October.

4. Cardinals. Adam Wainwright put up good results against the Mets yesterday. You're always wary of a guy coming off Tommy John surgery so recently, relatively speaking - February 28 of last year - and with Chris Carpenter having neck issues, the front of St. Louis' starting rotation is not as rock solid as the club would desire.

So if the Cardinals can stay afloat through the first couple of months, and then they find that they need another starter...that would work out just fine for Roy Oswalt, whose first choice all along has been St. Louis, as we discussed back in December.

Meanwhile, regarding Carpenter, new St. Louis manager Mike Matheny is struggling to find his footing when it comes to what to say and what not to say about injuries. He said that St. Louis didn't have information about Carpenter, even as accurate reports surfaced that the right-hander had a bulging disk. 

Sounds like Joe Girardi Syndrome. Girardi lied about injuries multiple times in 2008 before understanding there's a way to both serve the public and look after the best interests of the players.

--Stop by later for a contest.


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