Monday, March 7, 2016

New York Mets 2016 preview

30 years ago, the Mets, after playing bridesmaid for 2 consecutive seasons in the National League East, steamrolled to the division title, then were extended to six games by Houston (then in the NL West) and seven by Boston in the World Series before bringing the championship back to New York.

Last year, the Mets shocked all the experts and won the division, upsetting heavily favored Washington, then beating the Dodgers in the Division Series, and avenged themselves on the Cubs, who had swept the regular season series, 7-0, by digging out the brooms in the League Championship Series, only to fall to Kansas City in the Series.

A lot has changed since. The biggest change? NLCS MVP Daniel Murphy left as a free agent for Washington, after going from hero to virtually zero in the Series. Jonathan Niese was dealt to Pittsburgh for 2B Neil Walker, a switch-hitter with power who represents an immediate upgrade at second. Late season rentals Tyler Clippard (Arizona) and Juan Uribe (Cleveland), reserve outfielder Kirk Nieuwenheis (Milwaukee), catcher Anthony Recker (Cleveland), and reliever Bobby Parnell (Detroit) were all cut loose. Alejandro De Aza, whose resume includes stops with Baltimore and the White Sox, replaces Nieuwenheis, and it was thought that he'd be cut before preseason play began after the Mets resigned Yoenis Cespedes. Asdrubel Cabrera (Tampa Bay) gives the Mets infield depth, such that Wilmer Flores will get a look as a backup first baseman to spell Lucas Duda periodically.

The strength of the Mets, however, is their pitching, as it has been for most of their 54 years. Consider the starting rotation. Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, Noah Syndergaard, and ancient veteran-turned-folk hero Bartolo Colon, plus Zack Wheeler looming in the distance, coming off Tommy John surgery, due back in the summer. The bullpen has been strengthened with the return of Jerry Blevins, who missed most of the season with arm issues, and the signing of former foe Antonio Bastardo, who had some good years with Philadelphia before moving to Pittsburgh last year. Josh Edgin is due back from Tommy John surgery in May, meaning the bridge to closer Jeurys Familia has got a stronger foundation. Bear in mind that while Washington picked up Murphy, they lost two of their starting pitchers from last year, with Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister both headed to the American League. They went from a scary Big 5 to a Big 3 (Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez), and yet some pundits still think the Nationals, with an aging, volatile Jonathan Papelbon closing, could reclaim the division. I think not. Now, it's the Mets who have the Big 5. Health is key to repeating in the division, something the Mets have never done.

Bear in mind, too, that last year, the Royals marked the 30th anniversary of their first World Series title appropriately by winning the title. The pattern is there. The Mets have never played in back-to-back World Series, either, but that is going to change. How do I know? You'll find out when we talk about the NL East in a couple of weeks.

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