Hope In Flushing

When you think of New York sports teams, you think of legendary championship titles and some of the world’s most talented athletes. However, New York has its fair share of less than spectacular teams. The Jets, Knicks and my favorite team, the Mets. Throughout their history, the Mets have fielded some of the most spectacular teams the game has seen, and some of the very worst. The 1969 Miracle Mets won the World Series despite being 100-1 underdogs, and the 1973 team made it back to the World Series despite being in last place with a month left in the season. The 1986 Mets were no underdog team. They dominated every team they faced all the way to their second World Series title. More recently, the 2000 team made it to the World Series despite a group of outfielders led by Benny Agbayani. Who? Exactly. Then there was the 2006 squad: the last playoff appearance for the Mets, who ran away with the division title.

But the Mets have seen more bad years than good ones. In their first season, 1962, the Mets lost 120 games, the most by any team since the World Series started. In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, the team was so bad that the upper deck at Shea Stadium was usually closed, as no one wanted to see them. The 1993 Mets were awful both on the field and off of it, as many of their players found themselves in legal trouble. Then of course there is the team us Mets fans have been subjected to the past half-decade.

I started following this team during the summer of 2008 and I couldn’t have picked a worse time to become a Mets fan. They haven’t had a winning season since. I have only witnessed the Mets as losers. But I have followed them religiously through these awful seasons, and despite all the disappointment they have brought me, I love them. And with all of the young talent they have collected the past few seasons, it looks as though all of my loyalty may finally be paying off rather soon. So with a bright future ahead, I am proud to start my inaugural column, Orange and Blues. Thank you for reading. Without further delay, let’s take a look at how the 2015 Mets may finally show a resurgence in the franchise.

The Young Arms

If the Mets are to be successful in 2015, it will be in large part due to their collection of young pitchers. The biggest story in their starting rotation this year will be the return of Matt Harvey after he had to undergo Tommy John Surgery in October of 2013, sidelining him for the entire 2014 campaign. The Mets have made it clear that they are going to keep an eye on the amount of innings he throws this year. But management said that if the team finds themselves in playoff contention, they’ll let Harvey throw as much as the Mets need him to, so I’m not too concerned they’ll be too overprotective with their ace. Harvey has proven he can be in the conversation of the best pitcher in baseball in the limited time he has had in the majors. I look forward to seeing “The Dark Knight of Gotham” dominating opposing batters again.

Harvey’s main sidekick duo will consist of Zack Wheeler and reigning National League Rookie of the Year Jacob deGrom. Wheeler was nearly as hyped as Harvey when he made his debut in 2013. However, he didn’t initially transition into the major leagues as well as Harvey did. That being said, Wheeler showed a lot of progress the second half of last season. In 2014, his Earned Run Average (ERA) was nearly a full run less in the second half as opposed to the first. It looks as though a lot of Wheeler’s growing pains are behind him, and he looks primed to create a great 1-2 punch for the Mets at the top of their rotation. deGrom looks to continue the success he had last season. Hopefully he can avoid the elusive “sophomore slump” that many players find themselves in.

The last two spots in the rotation will likely see quite a few faces. Jonathan Niese and Bartolo Colon are slated to fill those spots. Niese will never be the ace of a rotation like Harvey, but he is very reliable and it’s tough to find a better pitcher at the back of the rotation than him. Colon, on the other hand, was very inconsistent for the team last season. But, he was the only Mets starter to throw more than 200 innings last season proving his durability. It’s hard to expect that again though, as Colon will turn 42 in May and has the body of a sumo wrestler. If Colon’s age and weight finally catch up with him this season, the Mets have plenty of arms to fill the void. Dillon Gee, who will be pushed to the bullpen this season after proving to be an average starter for the Mets, will likely be first in line to take Colon’s spot. Noah Syndergaard is projected to be even more dominant than Harvey, but he had a very shaky season in the minor leagues last year. Syndergaard will more than likely debut this season regardless, and could be a big contributor. Rafael Montero is another young gun that can make an impact in 2015. He got some playing time in the majors last season and at times showed his potential, but he also struggled a bit and showed that he needs more time in the minor leagues.

New and Much Improved Bullpen

A large part of the Mets’ turmoil the past few seasons has been their bullpen. But last year the bullpen, which was once a weakness, turned into a strength. Jenrry Mejia stepped into the closer role last season and promptly saved 28 games in 31 opportunities. Despite his strong performance, Mejia will take a backseat as Bobby Parnell will take over the closer role again after missing most of the 2014 season. Joining Mejia and Parnell will be Jeurys Familia, who was lights out setting up the 9th inning for Mejia in 2014.  Carlos Torres threw nearly 100 innings out of the ‘pen last season while still pitching effectively, and Josh Edgin proved how tough he can be on left-handed batters. Vic Black was also very effective and he and Gee will round out the bullpen.

The “If” Lineup

While the rotation and bullpen figure to be very strong assets for the Mets, the offense is left with a bunch of question marks. The only big addition General Manager Sandy Alderson added to the team this offseason was veteran Michael Cuddyer. While a very solid hitter, Cuddyer has been very injury-prone the past few seasons and will turn 36 before Opening Day. The Mets have a notorious history of signing old players for a lot of money, then watching them get injured and hardly play for the team. But the key word you will notice with this lineup is “if.” If he stays healthy, he’ll be a great addition. If Curtis Granderson can show more power than what he displayed last season, then maybe the Mets won’t regret signing him to a huge contract. The right field fence will be moved in before the start of the season, so hopefully the “Grandy Man” can knock a few more out of the park this year. Team Captain David Wright had arguably the worst season of his career last year. If he can bounce back, the Mets can say they have a star hitting in the middle of their lineup. If Wilmer Flores can continue the power stroke he had at the end of last season, maybe Alderson won’t look so foolish for not acquiring a shortstop.

Along with the team looking for bounce-back seasons and good health from some of their hitters, they also hope some of their batters can continue the success they had last season. Second baseman Daniel Murphy is their most reliable bat, as he has batted around .285 with some power and stolen bases the past few seasons. Lucas Duda had a breakout season last year. I don’t expect him to crack 30 home runs again this season, due in large part to his struggles against left-handed pitchers. But if he proves to be a solid cleanup hitter for the team and provides 20-25 home runs, I’ll be plenty happy. Catcher Travis d’Arnaud showed a lot of progress after returning from the minors last season. If he can build off of the success he had last season, the Mets will have another strong bat in their lineup.

Then there’s Juan Lagares, who looks as though he is on the cusp of becoming a star. He won a Gold Glove Award last season and was a joy to watch in the outfield. He’ll be at the top of the Mets lineup this season and has shown he can hit for a good average, steal bases and can provide some power.

Other than Lagares and Wright, who has always been great at manning third base, the Mets are a bit questionable defensively. Flores has yet to prove himself at shortstop, and while Murphy has improved at second base, his range is very limited. Duda is a bit of a liability at first, and d’Arnaud has a below average throwing arm behind the plate. The bench players will help the starting lineup’s defensive struggles.

Final Analysis

Last season the Mets gave their fans something we haven’t felt in a very, very long time, hope. Many of their young players showed signs of soon becoming the core of a great team. Something that is interesting about the team last season is that they had a 75-68 against teams not named the Washington Nationals. The Mets could’ve had their first winning season since 2008, and almost did so without Harvey, had it not been for the team in the nation’s capital. The Nationals ran away with the division last season, and went 15-4 against the Mets along the way. They are again projected to run away with the division, and with a starting rotation that is the best in baseball, it is hard to argue against that prediction. But I don’t expect the Mets to win the division this year anyway. If they are to make the playoffs it will be as one of the Wild Card teams. So will the Mets make the playoffs this year? Honestly, probably not. Teams typically have a transition year before competing where they are in the race for a while, but fade out towards the end. However, for the first time in a long time, I actually look forward to this season. There is every chance the Mets can play exciting baseball all summer long and play important games in September. However, watching this team the past few seasons has also made me cynical. Also, I know there is a very good chance a lot of things might go wrong and the Mets may endure their seventh straight losing season. But rejoice Mets, fans, because the suffering may not last much longer. The Mets may very well actually field a contender this season.