There are the Yankees with home run power and overall a team that is deep at every position with the exception of first base, now that Greg Bird will probably be idle from baseball activity for two months due to a recurring problem with his right foot. There are the Mets, the supposed other team in New York that depends on pitching to get them back to the postseason for the first time since 2016.
Welcome to baseball and the 2018 season. For New York baseball this could be a season of success while others will continue rebuilding. Then there are the teams that are expected to play deep in October:
In the National League: Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Cubs, Brewers, Nationals are the playoff picks, and perhaps the young Padres that could make an impact. American League: Yankees with their home run power and proficiency to score runs with a solid starting five on the mound. Boston. Cleveland, Twins, and of course the defending World Series champion Houston Astros.
But, as we all are aware, you play the 162-game season and anything can happen. Injuries are always a factor, while the July non-waiver trading deadline can change the complexion of a team. And there are numerous big name players still on the market that could be signed in the opening weeks of the new season.
Baseball economics has changed. Jose Bautista and Melky Cabrera are still looking for work along with reliever Greg Holland and some more on the open market. Then there is that word “analytics” that changes the entire perspective of the game with managerial decisions pertaining to the pitcher and hitter.
Yankees brief perspective: Of course the Yankees added to their depth and home run power with the addition of NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton. With Stanton, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Didi Gregorius, the Yankees have the potential of surpassing more than the 200 home runs that they hit out of the park last season.
This is a new “Murderer’s Row” and with Judge, the AL Rookie of the Year, and Stanton the NL MVP, the Yankees will open the gates early for fans to see them hit balls out of the ballpark during batting practice. GM Brian Cashman built this team to win and go that extra step after their unexpected run of falling one game short of reaching the World Series in October.
Of course pitching is the game. If Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia. Sonny Gray, all coming off a successful post season, and Jordan Montgomery as the fifth starter, give the Yankees innings and limit the home run ball, opposing managers will need to go further with their analytics. Innings won’t matter from the starters because rookie manager Aaron Boone, with possibly the best bullpen in the game, goes to David Robertson, Dellin Betances, or Aroldis Chapman.
Red Sox, Indians, Twins, and the Angels, an improved team, are clubs to watch in the AL.The Twins look to advance beyond a wild card elimination game. But it is the Astros, and with possibly the top starting rotation, as the favorites to repeat as World Series champions and little doubt about Carlos Correa, George Springer and Jose Altuve.
Mets Brief Perspective: Where the Mets finish is contingent on their starting pitching and the attention will be on the hopeful comeback of right hander Matt Harvey. Now 29 years old who is a free agent after this season, Harvey looked like his ol’ 2015 self based on his spring starts.
GM Sandy Alderson made some solid additions, but is that enough to overtake the Nationals as champions of the NL East? There are those positive signs, then again when the Mets broke camp last April and headed north there was that same optimism before the implosion of injuries that took them out of the box before the All-Star break.
The velocity is there for Harvey. He is attacking the strike zone with authority and that makes a difference but he along with Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, will all be monitored carefully by rookie manager Mickey Callaway, a conscious general who was instrumental in developing an outstanding core of starters as the pitching coach for the Cleveland Indians.
Terry Collins used 12 different starters last season due to the devastating injuries that killed the Mets season with one starter after another going down with injury. The key is Harvey and of course with the left hander Matz. If Callaway gets quality starts from those four, with Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman also having a role, the Mets will contend again.
The bullpen leaves a lot to be questioned. Callaway will eventually recognize that Jeurys Familia is the closer and AJ Ramos can also set up and close the door. Jerry Blevins is the lefty specialist and newcomer Anthony Swarzak begins the season on the disabled list.
So it comes down to Mets’ pitching and of course staying healthy. If so, the Mets are a solid contender and their pitching, which was next to last in the league last year, is expected to propel them back to contention. The offense once again depends on a healthy Yoenis Cespedes and revolving around the home ball that could be dangerous with the return of Jay Bruce. Michael Conforto is expected to return by early May after shoulder surgery and awaiting the task as the catalyst leading off, with Brandon Nimmo and Juan Lagares filling the void.
Other than that, Todd Frazier is a viable addition at third base. The Mets may have the oldest infield in baseball, but they feature leadership with Asdrubal Cabrera handling second and newcomer Adrian Gonzalez at first for the moment, until Dominic Smith recovers from a setback. They can produce some runs.
They won’t steal many bases but it will be interesting to see the continued development of 23-year old shortstop Amed Rosario who is mentored by Jose Reyes off the bench. Wilmer Flores, the versatile and still popular infielder, may get some spots in left field or provide a role at first.
It’s very simple to understand about the Mets. Pitching, and maybe for the first time, the unit of Syndergaard, deGrom, Matz, and Harvey will come together. All healthy at the same time and 25 starts apiece, 200 innings or more? Never happened but can be a lethal weapon if it does. And if so, the Mets have a top three rotation in the game that can contend with the Nationals, with the NL Wild card in play in an NL East division that is otherwise mediocre with the rebuilding Braves, Phillies and Marlins.
Not much for prognostication here because anything can happen from the first pitch, to the trading deadline. The 162-game schedule is played and there is always a setback. But here goes:
Yankees: Win AL East with 95 wins and back to the ALCS and a rematch with the Astros.
Mets: Win NL wild card with 85 wins (pending no injuries to pitching, Cespedes, Bruce, or key position players) and lose in division series to Nationals.
Exciting baseball for 2018 in New York. Time to play ball and or course this columnist will not go with a pick as to who plays deep into October.