However, as every baseball expert will tell you, the 162-game season is played and anything can happen and there are the Washington Nationals who are improved in the National League East, the Los Angeles Dodgers in the west and the vastly improved Chicago Cubs.
Don’t bypass the San Francisco Giants. They got another ace on the mound, Johnny Cueto, and this is an even year which puts them in the equation if one is to believe that theory.
Noticeable is, the Mets are the baseball team in New York and not the Yankees. That is expected after the results of last season and the unexpected World Series appearance that came up short to the Kansas City Royals.
But the Mets are favored to take the NL East and play deep into October. For their fans, that is a change of pace because last year was unexpected and it all came to fruition with the trade deadline acquisitions made by GM Sandy Alderson.Yoenis Cespedes starts from scratch with an opt out clause in the contract after leading the second half surge for New York last season.
Alderson made some questionable moves and perhaps because of economics. Ruben Tejada is now with the St. Louis Cardinals and will be welcomed by Mets fans because of that slide by the Dodgers’ Chase Utley that took him out of the postseason. And right-hander Carlos Torres is gone that leaves a void in the pen as Collins used him often the past two years.
The Mets became the best scoring team in baseball when Cespedes arrived. It can still be that way but there are a lot of factors including the health of David Wright. The captain hopes to play more than 120 games and needs to be productive with Cespedes. Travis d’Arnaud will handle the pitchers behind the plate and he needs to stay in the lineup and avoid the injury plague that set him down twice last season.
The infield is vastly improved with the additions of Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera, though the results this spring may have Mets fans calling for, why did we not re-sign Daniel Murphy? Cabrera does not have the range he once did, while Walker will handle second as good as Murphy, is a good opposite field hitter and could be consistent with some home run power.
Lucas Duda needs to take more pitches and become a home run threat early and not late in the season and cut down the strikeout ratio. Curtis Granderson is expected to once again be the catalyst leading off after a solid .348 on base percentage to go along with 23 home runs and 85 runs batted in.
The bench is improved and allows manager Terry Collins to make some moves. Michael Conforto will see most of the playing time in left field and only gets better. And Juan Lagares, will get his starts as well and comes off the bench with the range in center and left depending on the strategy Collins opts to use.
Wilmer Flores, the folk hero can back up Wright at third and has another year under his belt. Alderson, before the Cespedes signing obtained Alejandro De Aza, a versatile hitter who can also provide some added depth for the outfield. The plan is to keep Kevin Plawecki as the backup to d’Arnaud and there is always a possibility that a late pickup will allow Plawecki to get more playing time in Triple-A Las Vegas.
So the season and single game ticket sales have sold at a rapid pace. And plenty of that has to do with the results of last season, and of course a pitching staff that is the youngest and possibly best in baseball.
To be realistic it was Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard that kept the Mets in ballgames early last year with that ailing offense, along with the veteran Bartolo Colon. They start the season with Steven Matz as a number four and if everything clicks for him you can’t ask for a better quartet.
Ask the scouts who know the game. For that matter ask the Royals who did extensive scouting and did everything they could to overcome the fabulous young arms that come at you. And at some point, Zach Wheeler returns from Tommy John surgery that will make the Mets pen better with Colon expected to be sent there.
The bullpen may still have issues, and does not resemble the “Three Headed” approach across town of the Yankees’ Betances, Miller and Chapman. But the Mets saw a closer develop last season in Jeurys Familia who has a nasty splitter. The slider has perfection and the fastball with velocity.
So with a starting staff that is capable of being the first in baseball to strike out 1,000 batters, assuming they stay healthy, the Mets are looking good going to the pen. But they need consistency at the plate and with Cespedes back in the lineup that fills the equation.
“It’s that pitching staff that will carry them a long time,” said a high ranking NL scout about the Mets. “If they are there a long time and stay injury free the Mets will be around a long time.”
That pitching rotation is the key. So are some of those key components in the lineup and you can throw away those meaningless spring training games where the Mets did not resemble a team ready to defend their National League championship. It all begins for real Sunday night in Kansas City and an early portion of the schedule does not test this team with games against some of the mediocre teams in baseball.
Last season got off to that great start and then there was that tailspin. April is always an early indicator but the trading deadline in July always becomes a factor for teams to make a run for October.
The Mets have that added incentive this season and similar to what the Royals followed from the year before by coming up short in the World Series. They will be watched because of the expectations but there is every reason to see them surpass 90 wins and repeat as NL East champions.
From there, it’s a whole new season in October.
Again it’s a long season and anything can happen. But for now it’s one step at a time and it should be a fun ride and expectations for the 2016 New York Mets.