The New York Mets begin the 2016 season in unfamiliar territory. They are the hunted, earning that right by virtue of their 2015 National League Championship. With a plethora of young starting pitching and a certain big bat in the lineup all season, the Mets are in a good spot to get back to the World Series. Can they reach the Fall Classic in back-to-back seasons for the first time in franchise history? Read on to find out.
Reasons to get excited:
When you talk about the Mets, all conversation starts with Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard. It is remarkable that three young pitchers in one organization have actually met or even exceeded the hype. Think about this for a moment: the best may be on the way. deGrom was able to avoid the dreaded and clichéd sophomore jinx and turned in an excellent campaign, highlighted by a dominant performance in the All-Star Game. Harvey is now over two years removed from Tommy John surgery. Expect him there to be no limits on his powerful right arm. Syndergaard will actually get to spend the entire season in New York, although there could be an innings limit set for him. Then there is Steven Matz who was sensational in limited action at the end of last season and is the next phenom to slide into the rotation. Zack Wheeler comes back in August and Bartolo Colon is back for another season at Citi Field. An embarrassment of riches is an understatement with this group.
Yoenis Cespedes is another guy that gets to spend a full season with the Amazins’. It is too much to ask of him to be just as hot as he was for five weeks when he first arrived last August. However, he is a legitimate middle-of-the-order force that makes the entire lineup better. The acquisition of Neil Walker brings much-needed defense at second base along with a live bat. Asdrubal Cabrera settles down the revolving door at shortstop with Wilmer Flores capable of filling in at either there or at second. Expect Curtis Granderson, one of my favorite all-time players, to produce another solid season from the leadoff spot. Lucas Duda should benefit from having Cespedes around for an entire year.
The bullpen is much better now than it was at this time a year ago. Jeurys Familia had one of the best seasons by a reliever in franchise history. As long as he can put his World Series woes behind him, there is no reason why he can’t duplicate his performance. Addison Reed provides some late inning stability and the signing of Antonio Bastardo gives the ‘pen three solid-to spectacular arms to hold down any lead. Jerry Blevins and Hansel Robles figure to add legitimate depth to the relief corps.
Reasons to be worried:
I’ve stated that David Wright will appear in no more than 100 games. He won’t be playing in any Spring Training games for another week, though he feels he will be ready for Opening Night. Unfortunately, the condition of his back makes me believe that he can no longer be counted on to be an above-average productive every-day player. Also needing to prove he can stay healthy is Travis d’Arnaud. When he is on the field, he is a force with the bat and makes the Mets’ lineup that much deeper. However, he has never appeared in more than 108 games in his three-year Major League career. Until he can prove health is not an issue, d’Arnaud remains a question mark.
If Familia goes down for any length of time, the bullpen roles become jumbled. Reed has experience closing but he is not the dominator that Familia is. Robles has the potential to be a shut down guy but he is unproven. Bastardo has talent but he is almost more of a situational guy with 57 1/3 innings pitched in 66 games last year. He’ll be asked to take on a more prominent role in case of an injury.
Although the up-the-middle-defense has improved, there are still some holes. The Kansas City Royals ran all over d’Arnaud in the World Series and although he is competent, expect more teams to test him. Walker and Cabrera are upgrades at second and short respectively but it might take a little time for them to get in rhythm. We will see how Cespedes will hold up under a full season in center field; left is his preferred position.
The Bottom Line:
Which Mets’ team will show up? They were streaky last season, starting off hot, punctuating their performance with an eleven game winning streak. They followed that up with three months of wretched baseball before the arrival of Cespedes. Once the trade deadline passed, New York took off, grabbing the National League East lead and never looking back. A better lineup should make the Mets less prone to long stretches of offensive futility.
There might be better teams over the course of a 162 game season. You can argue that the San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs, Arizona Diamondbacks and Pittsburgh Pirates are each more complete than New York. However, once the playoffs roll around it doesn’t matter. All the Mets have to do is win their mediocre division and the situation changes. No team in the sport can match their starting rotation and the big bats of the other teams will inevitably go quiet into the night. The improved lineup that will be intact from day one will result in at least 57 wins out of deGrom, Harvey and Syndergaard. There will be no roller coaster ride for Mets’ fans in 2016. 94 wins and another division title will propel them to another World Series appearance.