Cockcroft: New York Mets preview

For much of last year, it seemed as if the Mets stood an excellent chance at a third World Series championship, exactly 20 years after their last one. With a team built much like that 1986 title-winning squad, around several key farm products and a few shrewd free-agent and trade acquisitions, the Mets wound up getting to within one game of the World Series in 2006, falling short in the final inning of the NLCS Game 7.

Now, with their homegrown products a year older and a year more experienced, the Mets head into 2007 a favorite to finally get over that hump. Few teams in baseball can boast the kind of firepower found in the top half of the New York lineup, beginning with Jose Reyes, who finally developed into the elite table-setter the team envisioned. He batted .300 in a breakout year in which he became the first player in history to manage at least 63 stolen bases, 120 runs scored, 192 hits and 19 home runs in a single season. No. 2 hitter Paul Lo Duca batted .318 and finally bucked the trend of poor second-half performances. No. 3 hitter Carlos Beltran, a bust of a free-agent signing in 2005, rebounded with career-high performances in home runs (41), RBI (116) and OPS (.982). Cleanup man Carlos Delgado struggled in batting average, but nonetheless managed 38 homers and 114 RBI in a "down" year. And David Wright, the No. 5 hitter and, along with Reyes, the team's other standout farm product, managed a 20/20 season in which he hit .311 with 116 RBI.

With all five players back on board for 2007, there's little doubt the Mets should challenge their No. 7 ranking in runs per game (5.15), especially with talented veterans like Moises Alou and Shawn Green following them up. Neither player is that exciting for fantasy, but considering Beltran, Delgado and Wright each managed better than a .360 on-base percentage, there should be plenty of RBI chances for Alou and Green.