In typical 2020 fashion, baseball is now really weird. There are cardboard cutouts of fans in the stands at Citi Field. Yoenis Cespedes is finally playing…as a DH. There’s a phantom runner on second base to start extra innings. Some ball parks are piping in recorded crowd noise. Relievers now have to face a minimum of three batters and there’s an expanded roster and something called a taxi squad to stand in for dormant minor league teams. It’s all going to take some getting used to, but we’re okay with that because we get to root for our favorite team again and that’s exactly the distraction we’ve all been pining for during this upside down year.
Despite missing the playoffs last year, the Mets had a great second half and offered a lot of reasons to cheer – with a home run king, a two-time Cy Young Award winner, and the emergence of an unstoppable hitting machine. This team is loaded with talent and personality and there’s every reason to believe we’ll have plenty to cheer for in this abbreviated 60-game season.
We’re in a tough division, maybe the toughest in baseball, with four out of five teams in the NL East boasting competitive rosters. Our lineup is the deepest and most powerful one we’ve had since 2006 with table setters Brandon Nimmo, Amed Rosario, Jeff McNeil, and Jake Marisnick waiting to be driven home by a parade of thumpers including Pete Alonso, Michael Conforto J.D. Davis, Yoenis Cespedes, Wilson Ramos, Robinson Cano, and Dominic Smith. For once, the Mets pitching staff won’t need to be lights out for this team to win.
And that’s a good thing, because there are concerns in that department. The bullpen, which cost us the playoffs last year, should be better. The addition of Dellin Betances gives us another fireballer with closing experience to join Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia – both poised for bounce back years, if for no other reason than this year’s ball should have raised seems again, giving them, and long man Robert Gsellman (assuming his arm injury doesn’t turn out to be serious) a chance to recapture their sliders. Seth Lugo returns as one of the most dynamic relievers in the game and Justin Wilson and Brad Brach (on injured list) provide a nice lefty-righty setup man balance. Hopefully, these arms are enough because beyond that we’ve got a mixed bag of marginal prospects, reclamation projects, bounce back candidates and waiver pickups. The Mets pen should be good and could possibly be great if it doesn’t have to rely too much on the likes of Paul Sewald, Drew Smith, Hunter Strickland, Chasen Shreve, Tyler Bashlor and Jared Hughes (injured).
As for the rotation, it starts with the surest thing in baseball. Ace Jacob deGrom is healthy, hungry, in his prime, and ready to defend his Cy Young throne. Next up we have Marcus Stroman, a gritty ground ball machine with a gold glove who’s pitching for a big contract. He makes for a sound number two. Unfortunately, he just went on the injured list with a tear in his calf. If he’s out more than a few weeks, this could be an issue. More on that in a moment.
Lefty Steven Matz is healthy and looked good in summer camp with an improved curve ball. A big year from him would really help. Former Cy Young Award winner and New Jersey native Rick Porcello is coming off a tough year, but he has plenty in the tank and a lot to prove. Switching leagues should help him as batters are less familiar with his repertoire. The last spot in the rotation is a potential problem and with a tightly packed schedule, the fifth spot may get just as many starts as the rest.
Before Noah Syndergaard succumbed to Tommy John surgery, the former Cardinal Michael Wacha was signed as insurance. Once a top prospect and then a quality starter with great stuff, the towering righty is coming off a pretty terrible year in which opposing hitters hit .290 off of him and he floundered with an ugly 1.56 WHIP. In 2018, Wacha was quite good, holding hitters to a .221 average and posting a 1.23 WHIP, however, he only pitched half the season due to injuries. Hopefully, Wacha can surprise us, but if not, there are some intriguing options, including rookie lefty David Peterson and off-season pickup Erasmo Ramirez. Holdover Cory Oswalt is another possibility, though not an exciting one. One of these three may already be in the rotation to hold Stroman’s spot. Having two of them in the rotation, especially with limited days off in the 2020 schedule, could really hurt us and might necessitate a trade, especially given that GM Brodie Van Wagenen felt it necessary to trade away three of our best high level pitching prospects and let Zack Wheeler walk.
Beyond the stacked lineup, deep but concerning bullpen, and suspect rotation, you have to love the energy around this team. New manager Luis Rojas looks like a great fit as the new dugout leader. Alonso is a great clubhouse leader, Smith is a spark plug and we have gritty players like McNeil, Nimmo, and Marisnick kicking up clouds of dust all over the field. The usual roar of the Citi Field crowd will be missed, but hopefully these 2020 Mets can sense all of us cheering them on from home. #LFGM