The Mets will begin the 2017 season vying for an unprecedented third straight post season. This Mets fan likes our chances, despite what Fangraphs (83 wins?!) thinks. If we can win 87 games and make the playoffs with half our team on the disabled list, you have to think we’ve got a good shot to win at least 90 this year with a healthy rotation flanked by a deep bench and bullpen. It also helps to play in a division that only has one other playoff contender.
Thanks to the wildcards, the Mets don’t have to win the NL East to make the playoffs. Five teams out of 15 in the National League will play in the post season and by any measure, the Mets are one of the top five teams. Who besides the Cubs, Nationals, Giants, and Dodgers could you argue is better than the Mets? The Giants have three strong starting pitchers, the best catcher in baseball and now a real closer. Beyond that? Some good defense and a few solid every day players (Hunter Pence, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt) but not much else. The back end of their rotation is ugly, as is the bottom of their lineup and middle relief. It’s as though they ran out of money building a team. The Diamondbacks are similarly constructed with a few stars and a lot of holes. The Cardinals have all the makings of a .500 team with good defense and a solid bullpen but no feared hitter or ace pitcher (Adam Wainwright is not who he used to be by any stretch). The Pirates are in the same boat, with some good players but a weak bottom of the order and a solid, but unspectacular rotation that is hardly playoff worthy. The Marlins and Rockies can score runs in bunches but can’t prevent them. The Phillies, Braves and Padres are rebuilding while the Brewers and Reds are still tearing down. Of all these also ran teams, you could best make a case for the Giants to make a playoff push, if they stay healthy and add another bat at trade deadline.
So for the sake of discussion, let’s look at these five teams – the Mets, Giants, Dodgers, Nationals and defending champion Cubs. Fangraphs is bearish on the Mets because of too many ifs – specifically, too many guys coming back from injury or off seasons. The point is, if the team can win 87 games despite having four fifths of the rotation and six of eight starting players hit the disabled list, imagine what they can do if even half of those guys return to health. Plus, they have more depth to start the season than they’ve had in years so they are better equipped to overcome a few injuries this time around. If Zack Wheeler is not ready to join the rotation, Robert Gsellman is ready to step in. If David Wright or Lucas Duda aren’t ready to play every day we have Jose Reyes, Wilmer Flores and T.J. Rivera waiting in the wings. If the older Curtis Granderson or the seemingly injury prone Juan Lagares go down, the Mets have more outfielders than they know what to do with.
Similarly, the Dodgers also got hit hard by injuries last season and still made the playoffs. Like the Mets, they got the band back together, resigning their own free agents to give it another shot with their current roster led by baseball’s best pitcher Clayton Kershaw and second most dominant closer in Kenley Jansen. They also have pitching depth and some bench players who could step in. In some ways, the Dodgers and Mets mirror each other and could meet in October.
The Cubs, while loaded on both sides of the ball, have some notable issues. First, they were remarkably lucky health wise last season. It’s rare that a team gets that many starts from their five-man rotation and this time around they don’t have the same depth behind their front line guys to step in if one of them goes down. Secondly, they’ll be relying on the shaky right arm of Wade Davis to replace the unhittable Aroldis Chapman at the backend of the bullpen. Thirdly, Dexter Fowler, a major catalyst for this team, is gone. Without him, they don’t have a true leadoff hitter. Lastly, while Kyle Schwarber‘s big bat will be in the lineup, it will be joined by his tiny glove, which is a serious liability wherever they put him.
The Nationals’ strong rotation is back, but trading their top two pitching prospects away stripped them of any depth in case of injury. And when you’re relying on the frail Stephen Strasburg, injuries are a given. The trade for Adam Eaton and the emergence of Trea Turner gives them some nice table setters in front of their two big lefties – Daniel Murphy and Bryce Harper, but the lineup after that is ugly. The aging and injury prone Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth, the inconsistent Anthony Rendon, and new light hitting catcher, Derek Norris are backed up by one of the weakest benches in the league. This is a top heavy team with little depth and, barring a trade, their bullpen does not currently feature a real closer. A good rotation and a strong top of the lineup should get them in the playoffs, but the Mets will be the better team in 2017.