Mets tired of late-season chokes

With the start of the new season, Mets fans are asking themselves if this will finally be their year after three consecutive heartbreaks.

From the Game Seven loss against the Cardinals in the 2006 NLCS to the late-season collapses in 2007 and 2008, the past three seasons have ended in devastation.

With a new season already underway, the team and its fans are now hoping that they will be able to celebrate the first season at new stadium Citi Field with a playoff run and possibly a World Series championship.

General Manager Omar Minaya was given a contract extension despite the team's second straight collapse. On paper, Minaya's new additions to the team seem to have plugged several of the holes that doomed the team last season.

The most glaring of these problems was the bullpen. Minaya solved that by signing Francisco "K-Rod" Rodriguez from the Los Angeles Angels as the team's new closer. Minaya also acquired former Seattle Mariners closer J.J. Putz to set up Rodriguez. With Putz and K-Rod set for the eighth and ninth innings, any lead after the seventh inning should be safe for the Mets.

Additionally, the Mets have gotten rid of many of the relievers who cost them several key games last season. Aaron Heilman, Scott Schoeneweis and Duaner Sanchez - all of whom failed miserably when called on to close games after Billy Wagner's late season injury - have been removed.

The Mets look solid in the field, with the only major question coming from second baseman Luis Castillo and his bloated contract. The recent signing of veteran outfielder Gary Sheffield at a bargain price gives manager Jerry Manuel another option in the outfield and if Sheffield plays well, look for the Mets to try to move right fielder Ryan Church before the trading deadline.

The main concern for the Mets' year is going to be the health of the starting rotation. Johan Santana should continue to put up great numbers and will probably get more wins now that he has a reliable bullpen to close out games for him.

Beyond that, the Mets have to hope that Mike Pelfrey can maintain his momentum from last season, John Maine can stay healthy and Oliver Perez can find some consistency. Livan Hernandez starts off the season as the fifth starter, though don't expect him to be there for the full season.

The 2009 Mets are certainly going to be an improvement over last year's team. Considering their close finish to division and World Series champions, the Philadelphia Phillies, and the lack of improvement on this year's Phillies team, I am cautiously predicting that the Mets will take the division this year.

I wouldn't go as far as a World Series win, but I do expect Citi Field to be packed for at least a couple of playoff games this October.