Saturday, March 25, 2017

Baseball 2017 preview, part 1: Mets & Yankees

In a little more than a week, it all begins for real for Major League Baseball. A number of questions abound. Can the Cubs repeat? Can the Nationals finally get past the 1st round and break the Dusty Curse? Can they even make the post-season 2 years in a row? And do the Mets and/or Yankees have enough to get to the post-season? In the Mets' case, that would be for the 3rd year in a row, something they've never done.

We'll start with the Mets & Yankees.

Yankees: Amidst the retirements of Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixiera, the Yanks finished 4th last year, but they're thinking the influx of youth into the lineup in the form of first baseman Greg Bird and outfielder Aaron Judge, assuming the latter makes the roster by this time next week, surrounded by remaining veterans on the order of Jacoby Ellsbury and Starlin Castro, will make them contenders again. In the words of ESPN's Lee Corso, not so fast, my friends.

Not only are Teixiera and Rodriguez gone, but so is Brian McCann (Houston), leaving 2nd year phenom Gary Sanchez behind the plate. I've seen some of these guys come along like a house of fire right off the bat (Shane Spencer, anyone?), only to flame out rather quickly. Sanchez would be the first home-grown backstop to be an All-Star since Jorge Posada, but let's see what he can do over a full season. Bird missed all of last year due to injury. Expect him to split time with Chris Carter (Milwaukee) at first. There's no guarantee Carter will be around long-term, though, not with a low batting average in pre-season. Too many strikeouts. I think now you can see why Houston let him go after the 2015 season. The Yankees also signed Matt Holliday (St. Louis) to play both outfield and first, although the outfield positions are pretty much set (Brett Gardner, Ellsbury, Judge or Aaron Hicks).

Unfortunately, they start the season without shortstop Didi Gregorius, who injured his shoulder during the World Baseball Classic. Gregorius is out until May at the very least. Where the Yanks have other questions is, of course, pitching. Sure, they made the World Champion Cubs look stupid as Arolids Chapman returns to the Bronx, but the concern is with the rotation. Aside from Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia, there aren't other proven commodities. Luis Severino was hot & cold last year, more cold than hot, actually. Adam Warren returned from Chicago when Chapman was traded in July, but is he really a dependable starter?

Prediction: The Yankees will contend for the Wild Card, but fall short again. They have to hope either Boston or Baltimore implodes enough to let them slip through. 3rd place, at least, means they did improve.

Mets: In comparison, as Terry Collins begins his 7th season in Flushing, there's relatively more stability in the lineup than there is in the Bronx. The Mets retained second baseman Neil Walker and outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, but questions remain about the long-term health of third baseman David Wright, which is why the right side of the infield remains a rotation of Jose Reyes, Asdrubal Cabrera, Wilmer Flores, and, if he makes the opening day roster, Eric Campbell. They don't have insurance at first anymore behind Lucas Duda, as James Loney returned to Tampa Bay via free agency. Outfielder Brandon Nimmo may begin the season on the DL with a hamstring injury sustained during the WBC, which would mean that Michael Conforto would be on the roster to start the season, alongside Cespedes and Curtis Granderson.

Catching may be a problem. Travis d'Arnaud didn't have a good year last year. Neither did Kevin Plawecki, but the Mets decided to keep them, and let Anthony Recker walk (Atlanta). Veteran Rene Rivera should be the starter if d'Arnaud starts slowly again. Period.

Pitching isn't as bad a problem as it is with the Yankees. Yes, Bartolo Colon is gone (Atlanta). Jon Niese's 2nd tour of duty was short, and now he's in the Bronx. Closer Jeurys Familia likely will be suspended to start the season, due to domestic issues (see Aroldis Chapman last year), but there is a veteran closer in Addison Reed to fill the void. Colon's departure opens the door for Zack Wheeler to break back into the rotation, but given his performance in the WBC, Seth Lugo deserves a look. Either one could fit right in with a killer trio of Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, and Matt Harvey, although the latter has been shaky this spring. All three, of course, also give the Mets extra bats in the lineup. Syndergaard, in particular, has hit 4 home runs the last two years. Expect more comic book jokes in regards to Harvey & Syndergaard. And maybe more home runs.

Prediction: I'd be wary of Atlanta, as they reloaded big time with the addition of Brandon Phillips in addition to Colon. Washington hasn't made back-to-back post-seasons, and they're not the same as they were last year, after getting rid of Met-killer Danny Espinosa. Health at the infield corners is paramount for the Orange & Blue Brigade. They will make the playoffs for a 3rd year, again as a Wild Card, but this time, they'll advance. 2nd place finish.

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