Alou could make Mets' lineup even more formidable

The Mets haven't exactly loaded up on starting pitchers this offseason. They struck out on Barry Zito and got outbid for the right to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka. Their biggest signing of a starting pitcher was the re-signing of 40-year-old Tom Glavine.

As a result, more pressure will be on the everyday lineup to stay hot and help the Mets take a step beyond 2006 and move past the National League Championship Series, in which they lost in seven games to the Cardinals.

Two winters ago, the Mets added Carlos Beltran. Last winter, they brought in Carlos Delgado. No Carlos was signed this winter -- Carlos Lee signed with the Astros -- and the Mets don't appear to have done anything dramatic to improve themselves.

But they did add a 40-year-old outfielder who might have been better served by moving to the American League and becoming a designated hitter, considering Moises Alou's age and injuries. On the other hand, if healthy, Alou could be exactly what the Mets need, a right-handed bat in a lineup that too often struggled against left-handed pitchers.

The Mets hit .254 against lefties, second-worst in National League last season. Alou's mark against lefties in 2006: .349.

In San Francisco, Alou was the second-biggest threat behind Barry Bonds. In New York, he'll simply be one of many threats. With Beltran, Delgado and David Wright at the heart of the order, Alou will be a supplementary piece along with Shawn Green, Paul Lo Duca and Jose Valentin. Jose Reyes, as the get-it-going guy at the top of the batting order, swiped 64 bases and scored 122 runs last year.

More than any other team in the National League, the Mets have an American League lineup. On all cylinders, there's no easy out, except for the pitcher's spot. They ranked third in the league in runs scored and could move up on the list if:

• Wright puts together two solid halves after collecting 20 homers and 74 RBIs before the All-Star break but six and 42 in the second half. (In the playoffs, Wright also hit .216 with one homer and six RBIs in 37 at-bats.)

• Green regains his swing after his so-so 34-game introduction with the Mets.

• Alou proves a capable replacement for left fielder Cliff Floyd.

Alou could be a nice fit as the No. 6 hitter to protect the fifth-hitting Wright. Like Floyd, Alou was limited in '06 by injuries, but he hit .301 with 22 homers and 74 RBIs in 98 games. In '05, his first year as a Giant, he was an All-Star and led the team in hitting at .321. In '04 with the Cubs, he hit a career-high 39 homers with 106 RBIs.

Alou's arrival could keep blue-chip prospect Lastings Milledge out of the lineup. Milledge could be used as trade bait for another starting pitcher -- the rumors involving his going to the A's never go away -- or insurance in case one of the corner outfielders, Alou or Green, fails to make an early splash. Endy Chavez, who hit .306 last season, could also be a factor.

But the big boppers are the Carloses -- Beltran hit 41 homers with 116 RBIs (he ranked fourth in MVP voting), Delgado had 38 and 114 -- and Wright, and don't forget that Reyes and Valentin combined for 37 homers and 143 RBIs or that the Mets led the league in steals and ranked third in slugging percentage.

Glavine is back, and so is Orlando Hernandez along with closer Billy Wagner, the key to a bullpen that posted the league's lowest ERA, 3.25. But Pedro Martinez will be sidelined for at least the first half of the season, and the rotation isn't as deep as GM Omar Minaya and manager Willie Randolph had envisioned it would be entering the new season.

With that all said, it'll be up to the everyday lineup to make a difference. And this one's certainly capable of doing that.

Next in line
1. Cubs: The Cubs were last in the National League in on-base percentage (.319) and needed an overhaul after Dusty Baker's club lost 96 games. They had an active offseason (committing to $300 million in contracts), including replacing Baker with Lou Piniella. The biggest spending was for Alfonso Soriano, who will cost $136 million over seven years and should help improve their on-base percentage. He'll be joining Aramis Ramirez, who was re-signed for $75 million, and Derrek Lee, who's eyeing a season of good health.

2. Yankees: The Yankees are still the Yankees, meaning they'll produce high on-base percentages and slugging percentages and, most important, score a lot of runs. Last year's total was 930 -- the only big league team topping 900. They lost Gary Sheffield but will "get by" with Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui, Jason Giambi and Bobby Abreu.

3. Indians: The Indians are a team to watch in 2007. They were second in the majors in runs and scored nine or more runs in 27 games. They added Josh Barfield, David Dellucci and Trot Nixon to complement Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore and the rest of the core.

4. Twins: The Twins' star hitters have nowhere to go but up, considering their age. But how much better could American League MVP Justin Morneau and the majors' leading hitter, Joe Mauer, get? The Twins can't wait to find out. Michael Cuddyer, Torii Hunter and Nick Punto had big years for the Twins, who led the majors in batting at .287.

5. Rangers: Sammy Sosa signed with the Rangers, and it's anyone's guess if he can come back from a year off, an unfavorable appearance before Congress and a corked-bat incident. It'll be an intriguing story if he wins a job and adds to the big sticks already being swung in Texas. With Gary Matthews Jr. gone, Michael Young, Mark Teixeira and Hank Blalock could use some help. You can never have enough hitting in a park that can wear out a pitching staff by mid-August. Sosa wants badly to fit in again, and the Rangers hope he does.

John Shea is the national baseball writer for the San Francisco Chronicle.