The Mets are acutely aware of what the baseball world thinks of them.
It does not mean the Mets believe the doom-and-gloom prophecy.
“I think we’ll win. We’ll win,” Opening Day starter Jon Niese said in a press conference Sunday morning prior to the Mets’ optional workout at Citi Field. The Mets will officially begin their 51st season this afternoon at home against the Padres.
Today’s outing marks the first time in Niese’s four full seasons with the Mets he will make the Opening Day start. He will be opposed by Edison Volquez.
Niese went 2-0 in five spring training starts. He finished with a 1.23 ERA in 22 innings, while limiting opponents to a .167 batting average.
He will face a Padres squad whose 43 home runs were fifth most in spring training. San Diego’s .282 team batting average was third best in the National League.
“It’s kind of sunk in now that we’re at Citi Field,” Niese said. “[Monday] I’ll be a little more anxious. I’m not going to treat it as an Opening Day. I’m going to treat it as a midseason start. Just be ready for it.”
The Mets have finished fourth each of the last four seasons and look to be weaker than divisional rivals Washington, Atlanta and Philadelphia. Factor in Johan Santana undergoing season-ending surgery on Tuesday to repair a torn anterior capsule in his left, throwing shoulder — it is the same surgery that cost Santana the entire 2011 season — plus a makeshift outfield and bullpen, and it appears the Mets are earmarked for a fifth-straight fourth place finish.
Yet the forecast is merely white noise to manager Terry Collins, who was unequivocal about what he will require from him team.
“We have to play the game right. We have to stay healthy. We have to execute. We can’t go and make two or three errors a night. We have 27 outs that we have to limit the other team [to]. Do what we did in the first half [of the 2012 season and] come up with big hits at the right time. Everybody’s got a piece here. Don’t think for one second in this clubhouse [that the Mets aren’t] going to have success because that’s what we’re going to do this season,” Collins said.
The manager then shared his message to the team Saturday before they departed Port St. Lucie, Fla. for Queens.
“[I] went over what the expectations are here. We don’t just show up and play here. There are expectations to play in this city. Our fans deserve a maximum effort each and every night,” Collins said. “I know we’ve got the right guys to do that. We’ve got the right mix of guys here. Now we just got to go play.
“[I] told the guys yesterday, ‘You want to be on the biggest stage? This is it.’ There [are] expectations in our clubhouse. I know what the feeling is on the outside especially [without] Johan. We’ve got guys who are not here, R.A. [Dickey] is not here. But you know what? You’re major league players. I’m sorry. The minute you just think you [can] show up and you’re a big league player, that’s not going to fly here. We’re going to find people who are going to play the game the right way, do things the right way and if they’re not in that clubhouse, we’ll go find them. If they’re in [Triple-A] Las Vegas, we’ll bring them up here.”
Should the Mets finish fourth or worse in the division, it would be the third-longest stretch of futility in franchise history. The 1962-68 editions finished no higher than ninth in a 10-team National League, while the 1977-83 squads finished in sixth place five times and in fifth place twice.
Follow Mets beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.