Mets Look for Fall Classic Return

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Arturo Pardavila III.

The New York Mets will enter the 2016 season in a position they are not too familiar with. Not only as the defending National League (NL) Champions, but also with expectations that are through the roof.

I can tell you that I have never been this excited for a baseball season before. The Mets had a very solid offseason coming off of their surprising run to the World Series. Many people, myself included, make the argument that the roster entering the 2016 season is better than the roster that brought the team to the World Series last year. Let’s take a look at the team that will look to make another run to the Fall Classic.

The Best Rotation in Baseball

You read that right. Now, am I biased? Of course, but it isn’t hard to argue that the Mets have the best starting rotation in baseball. Last season the Mets starters posted an ERA of 3.44, which was good for fourth in all of baseball. Keep in mind that last season Matt Harvey had his innings monitored carefully by management, Noah Syndergaard didn’t debut until mid-May, Steven Matz only started six games in the regular season and Zack Wheeler missed the entire year due to Tommy John surgery. Even with all of that, the rotation was still one of the best in baseball.

Coming into this year Harvey is a full year removed from Tommy John surgery and threw 216 innings last season between the regular season and playoffs, so hopefully management will ease up on the strict innings limits. Syndergaard and Matz will start the season with the club, and Wheeler will likely return around the All-Star break. You throw in Jacob deGrom and come mid-July, assuming everyone stays healthy, the Mets could have five top-tier starting pitchers in their rotation. This staff is capable of putting up historic numbers not just this season, but possibly for years to come.

It’s tough to say who the ace of this rotation is. deGrom posted a 2.54 ERA last season, the best of the Mets starters with at least 150 innings pitched and good for sixth in all of baseball. Not only that, but aside from his Game 2 start in the World Series, deGrom had a fantastic postseason. Harvey is certainly the most publicized of the group, between his innings limits and his refusal to leave Game 5 of the World Series. Ever since his breakout season in 2013, everyone has had insane expectations for him. On occasion he has lived up to these expectations, such as the first eight innings of Game 5 of the World Series. There’s no doubt that he’s a talented pitcher, and on just about any other team he would no doubt be considered the ace. Admittedly it’s tough to put the rest of the rotation in the top-tier category at the moment, but the potential and talent is certainly there. Each of these guys just need some more time in the majors before they can be considered elite. Syndergaard’s 10.0 SO/9 led all of the Mets starters last season, and the rookie had a very solid playoff performance. Matz showed a lot of poise in his six regular season starts last season. He was a little shaky in the postseason, but you can only expect so much from a guy who has only thrown 35.2 innings in the regular season for his career. Expect Matz to be a prime Rookie of the Year candidate this season. Wheeler will not return until mid-July, but he showed a lot of promise in 2013 and 2014. Until his return, fan-favorite Bartolo Colon will fill in his spot.

An Underrated Lineup

For most of last season, the Mets offense was nothing short of anemic. Then came the end of July and everything changed. General Manager Sandy Alderson acquired Kelly Johnson, Juan Uribe and superstar Yoenis Cespedes. Johnson and Uribe are gone, but Cespedes delighted Mets fans when he resigned with the team this offseason.

Yo’ changes the lineup from average to very, very solid. Is he going to be as productive as he was in August and September for an entire season? Absolutely not, but he brings some much-needed power to the middle of the lineup. Also returning will be Curtis Granderson at the top of the lineup. You can argue that Granderson was the Mets’ Most Valuable Player last season, but he will be 35 this season. Expect Granderson to still be productive, but maybe not repeat the very successful season he had in 2015. The captain, David Wright, will begin his 13th season with the Mets. Last year Wright missed significant time and was diagnosed with spinal stenosis. His best years are behind him and management will have to keep an eye on his playing time. But if Wright can stay healthy for a good portion of the season, he can still contribute.

Travis d’Arnaud, Lucas Duda and Michael Conforto will all be back in the lineup as well. Like Wright, d’Arnaud missed a lot of last season due to injury, but if he can stay healthy he will be very productive. Duda was first on the Mets last season with 27 home runs. He was very streaky, sometimes hitting home runs in bunches and being ice cold at other times. It was good to see him hit left-handed pitchers well last season after he had struggled with that his whole career. Don’t be surprised if his streakiness continues into 2016. Conforto is someone that Mets fans are very excited about. He showed a lot of maturity at the plate last season as a 22-year-old and put up a solid rookie campaign. Conforto has the potential to be the Mets’ next star hitter for years to come.

There will be some new faces to the lineup this season. Daniel Murphy, after becoming the first player in history to homer in six straight postseason games last October, signed with the rival Washington Nationals this offseason. To replace him, the Mets traded Jon Niese to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Neil Walker. Murphy may be the better hitter, but Walker is still very solid offensively and won’t make any bonehead mistakes in the field the way Murphy did. The Mets also signed free-agent shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to add depth. Cabrera is also very solid and much better defensively than Wilmer Flores. Flores will likely platoon with Walker at second base and see a lot of time against left-handed pitching.

From top to bottom, the Mets will enter this season with a very good lineup that can score plenty of runs for the team’s elite starting pitching. The offense will likely be overshadowed by that starting pitching, but don’t expect this team to struggle to score runs the way they did for most of last year.

Bullpen and Bench Depth

Jeurys Familia assumed closer duties very early last season, and had one of the best seasons a Mets closer has ever had. He was dominate in the playoffs, up until the World Series. He set a new World Series record with three blown saves. But two of those saves can very easily be blamed on the defense. Hopefully his confidence isn’t shaken and Familia will again have a very good season.

Addison Reed, who was acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks last season, will likely be the Mets’ set-up man. While nothing special for most of his career, he did post a 1.17 ERA during his short stint with the Mets last season. Hansel Robles and newly-acquired Antonio Bastardo will also see a lot of time late in games. Bastardo has been a very solid southpaw throughout his career, and Robles was solid in his rookie campaign last year. Sean Gilmartin, Logan Verrett and Erik Goeddel will all see time out of the pen as well. Prospect Rafael Montero could contribute, as well as Buddy Carlyle and Jerry Blevins. All three are recovering from injuries suffered last year.

On the bench will be back-up catcher Kevin Plawecki, Ruben Tejada, Juan Lagares and Alejandro De Aza. The main thing this bench will offer to the team is defense. Plawecki is significantly better defensively than d’Arnaud, and Tejada can play second base, shortstop and third base. Lagares, who won a Gold Glove in 2014, struggled last year due to an arm injury. But he claims his arm won’t be an issue this season, and he will likely start in center against lefties and shift Cespedes to left field. De Aza, who was signed in the offseason, was originally projected to platoon with Lagares in center until Cespedes resigned with the team. He’ll still provide a solid left-handed bat off the bench and can play every outfield position.

Final Analysis

This team has every chance of being better than the team that made it to the World Series last year. Alderson designed this team to give them the best shot possible to not only make it back to the World Series, but to win it. Will this happen? I have no clue. Anything can happen come playoff time, but the Mets stand a damn good chance of getting back to the Fall Classic.

One thing I absolutely expect from this team though is that they repeat as NL East Champions. There is no excuse for them to not win their division once again. The Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves are in full rebuilding mode, and the Miami Marlins will be better than last year — but not better than the Mets. The Amazins’ main foe will once again be the Nationals. The Nats were unable to make the big signing this offseason that they tried to make time and time again, losing guys like Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmerman in the process. There is talent on that team, but they look so much weaker this year than they did last year when they finished seven games behind the Mets in the standings. Not only that, but something about that team makes me feel like the chemistry in the clubhouse is very off. Look no further than the image of Jonathan Papelbon strangling teammate Bryce Harper in the dugout during a game last September. And this is the team that is supposed to challenge the Mets for the NL East crown.

Get ready Mets fans. It’s looking like another great year is ahead in Queens.