Shea Stadium; Photo: Tien Mao

Today is the full-fledged start of the 2004 baseball season (Japan games and Sunday night games don't count) and Gothamist is very excited. The off-season was mired with talks of BALCO and steroids, but an exciting season can make people forget. Every team is starting out tied, with high hopes for some teams, and hopes for improvement for others.

Nowhere is this more evident than with the two teams in New York. The Yankees, with their all-star team and headline grabbing off-season moves, start the season with half a foot in the playoffs and the expectation of winning the World Series. On the other side of the coin is the Mets, a team that has performed dismally in the past few seasons, made several off season moves to improve, and only hopes to regain some credibility with few expectations to make the playoffs.

2004 Yankkes Outlook:
There are a few teams with lots of buzz around them - Red Sox, Angels, Cubs, Astros, Phillies - but the team with the most buzz has to be the Yankees. Typical, isn't it? Not to be outdone by his crosstown rivals, George Steinbrenner needed a 3rd baseman and went out and got the best shortstop in the game (and possibly the best player in the game) and moved him to 3rd.

Alex Rodriguez; Illustration: Joe Zeff/NY Times

With the acquisition of Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees already potent offense is now a juggernaut that will challenge their 1931 modern-era runs scored record of 1067 runs and possibly the all-time record of 1220 by the 1894 Boston Braves. As an opposing manager, who do you pitch to? The only major hole in the lineup is Enrique Wilson.

Of course, as everyone knows, it's all about pitching in the post-season. During the off-season, the Yankees lost lefties Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens. They are replaced with Javier Vasquez and Kevin Brown, both great pitchers. Vazquez has four pitches including a 93-MPH fastball, a slider, curveball, and change-up. Brown is a former ace, with a deadly slider and previous health issues, but if he's back from injury, the pitching rotation will be superb. Of course, lefties at "The Stadium" are crucial, so time will tell if Petitte can be replaced. The rotation is also includes Mike Mussina, a much-improved Jose Contraras, and Jon Lieber. The Yankee bullpen is also improved, with acquisitions to help get to closer Mariano Rivera. Paul Quantrill and Tom Gordon will go a long way in improving a bullpen that was a weakness last year.

The only questions are: Can Manager Joe Torre can keep everyone happy - we think he can; Can the starting pitchers remain healthy - expect an injury or two, and if there is anything major, expect a trade; How far the Yankees will go in the playoffs - that, we leave for debate.

2004 Mets Outlook:
Sadly, the outlook for the Metropolitans is not as bright. Last year, they finished the season with a dismal 66-95 record despite a $117 million opening-day payroll. This year, their payroll is trimmed to a "modest" $86 million, but there have been many improvements despite the cut in payroll. The defense is much improved, yet there are still some questions remaining. Pitching has improved a little, but there are still major questions. The offense has more hope, but is still questionable. Thus is the story of the Mets. Improvements can be made, and no matter how good, the Mets will always live in the shadow of another team.

In previous seasons, the Mets looked to improve their team by acquiring hitters. Hitters that were somewhat aged and didn't necessarily have a chance of success at pitcher-friendly Shea Stadium. Last year, they signed free-agent pitcher Tom Glavine, with hopes to improve their pitching. Unfortunately, Glavine had a career-worst 9-14 season, not exactly what Mets management was hoping for.

Kazuo Matsui; Photo: Drew/AP

This year, the Mets finally addressed their defensive woes with help in the middle of the field. They went out and signed Japanese free-agent Kaz Matsui, moved Jose Reyes to 2nd base, and signed Mike Camron to patrol center field. They also traded the hated Roger Cedeño to St. Louis, which will surely make fans happy. Another question remains - can Mike Piazza make the move to 1st? Surely it won't help the defense if Matsui and Reyes make spectacular plays to 1st and Piazza can't handle the throws.

Pitching on the Mets is still questionable. It's an old starting rotation, with Glavine (38), Al Leiter (38), Steve Trachsel (33), and Scott Erickson (36). Tyler Yates (who?) is the other starter and is a tike at 26. In the bullpen, they have the 43 year-old John Franco and the newly acquired closer, Braden Looper.

According to Mets owner Fred Wilpon, the Mets are just hoping to play "meaningful games". Hearing that makes Gothamist cringe. It's never good when you hear that during the season, but Wilpon said this before the season even started. We think that the Mets will finish either 4th or 5th in the competitive NL East. Yikes, looks like another long season for the Mets.