The Washington Nationals will win the NL East. It likely will not be close. The only semblance of competition may come once again from the New York Mets. It seems comical to say “once again” when the Mets barely competed last year. So, what is different this year? Well for starters (pun intended), they are going into the season healthy. They also made a change at the top, bringing in first time Manager, Mickey Callaway who coached the Cleveland Indians pitching staff to great success over the past couple of years. The Mets are hoping that Callaway can bring this experience to coach their potentially formidable and finally healthy starting rotation.
The Mets are only three seasons removed from a World Series appearance, where they got a glimpse of how good they can be for many years to come. This staff beat a much more stocked Dodgers team and mowed down the Cubs lineup, sweeping them in the NLCS, before losing to the Royals. The Mets followed up that season by making the playoffs again in 2016, the first time in their history they made the playoffs in back to back seasons.
This offseason, in addition to getting healthy, the Mets were smart and thrifty. They signed OF Jay Bruce, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, LHP Jason Vargaz, 3B Todd Frazier and reliever Anthony Swarzak to team friendly contracts. You may not like the sound of a thrifty big market team ( I hate it) but you can’t deny that in this market the Mets came out looking good.
For the Mets this season, it will come down to their starters and their health. Just for fun, and maybe some tears, here is a reminder of all the Mets who went down with an injury last year; Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Zach Wheeler (who didn’t even pitch at all last season), David Wright, (check the numbers, he was on pace for a Hall of Fame career) Yoenis Cespedes, Michael Conforto, Jeurys Familia and others. Not to mention, they unloaded Jay Bruce (who has since resigned), Addison Reed and Neil Walker. All teams have injuries but the Mets were decimated and this year, everyone, sans Wright, is healthy. The Mets need 60 starts from the top two in the rotation (Syndergaard and Degrom) and they need Harvey and Matz to return closer to their top form. The Mets also have rotation depth for once with Jason Vargas, Seth Lugo, Robert Gsellman and Wheeler likely to pitch in that fifth rotation spot. This depth will keep their arms healthy. This is a top 5 in baseball rotation if healthy, if not, the Mets will be terrible.
Another, team strength to go unnoticed is the Mets bullpen. Familia, the team’s single season saves leader (51) returns to do the bulk of the closing. Callaway has already confirmed that he will use the game scenarios and matchups to determine how he is going to use the backend of his bullpen, as he did in Cleveland. With so many strong backend arms, this can prove to benefit the Mets as this may help keep Familia out of those multiple out or multiple run saves he often blew. Gsellmen, or Lugo, or Wheeler or Vargaz will play pivotal roles as the long man out of the pen or spot reliever giving the rotation a breather and longevity.
Can you guess which teams in the National League hit the most home runs? Not the Cubs or the Nats. Answer, the Mets and Brewers. However, other than hit home runs the Mets did very little else right offensively. Again, injuries and trades killed this lineup, but don’t be mistaken, this team will hit again. This lineup is more balanced this year and the bench is solid. They have upgraded at just about every position. This lineup likely has four 30+ home run hitters (Bruce, Cespedes, Frazier, Conforto). What the Mets lose in speed, they make up for in power. There won’t be much small ball with this team, but you can expect they will produce a lot of runs this year.
The Mets will not win the National League East. However, the Mets will compete. This team can win 90 games or 70 games if it all falls apart again. My prediction, it won’t. The Mets will take one of the wild card spots. In the playoffs, this is not a team you want to face. With 2 aces a lineup that can hit and a long bullpen that is six men strong, other NL playoff teams will want to avoid the Mets. Then again, these are the Mets, and you never know how they will disappoint you again this year. (Careful Nats fans, you should refrain from laughter as your team has shown some great creativity in losing playoff series.)
It’s Opening Day, Let’s Play Ball!