Can Diaz, May, and Lugo lock down the late innings?

Edwin DiazIt’s been a busy off-season for the Mets and the front office has done an admirable job filling out the 40-man roster with talent, versatility, and depth. The offense, defense, bench, and rotation should all be significantly improved over last year and primed for a playoff run. But as history tells us, a weak bullpen can torpedo a promising season. After all, ever the best starting pitchers rarely throw complete games anymore, so it’s very often left to the relievers to hold the lead or keep the game close.

As for closing, Edwin Diaz figures to hold that role again. Will we see the strikeout machine we saw in 2020 or the homerun derby pitcher we saw in 2019? This is a very big and scary question to consider. What was the main cause of Diaz’s brutal 2019 – the slick ball, the change of scenery, or the pressure of playing in New York? Maybe the raised seems last season helped him find his slider and maybe he got used to his teammates and the big city. Or, as some have suggested, maybe he thrived under the reduced pressure of not having to pitch in front of a packed ballpark. The fans may return at some point this season and the baseballs will be changing again so we can’t rest too easy on our expectations here. One positive is that new catcher James McCann is regarded as a better receiver, pitch framer, and overall defensive catcher than his predecessor and that can certainly help Diaz.

The good news is that there are alternatives if Diaz falters. Newly signed Trevor May is another hard-throwing strikeout pitcher who can be a lockdown setup man and step in to close if needed.  Over the past season and a half in Minnesota, May struck out a whopping 117 batters in just 87.2 innings. Seth Lugo, though expected to begin the season on the IL recovering from surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow, also has some closing experience, as well as the ability to pitch multiple innings. It would be reassuring if the Mets could add one more bullpen piece before the season starts to at least hold the line until Lugo returns, likely in mid May.

The Mets’ 2021 bullpen also features two former All-Star closers in Jeurys Familia and Dellin Betances. Due to injuries or ineffectiveness, neither has been dominant for several years now. However, the hope is that both are healthy with something to prove and at least one of them will prove effective as a useful setup man. The lefty Aaron Loup seemed to transform from an average reliever to a very effective one last year with Tampa Bay and he cranked it up a notch in the playoffs. In nine 2020 post-season appearances, Loup was effective in eight and allowed no home runs. He will certainly be in the late inning mix.

The rest of the bullpen may be something of a revolving door as pitchers shuttle back and forth to Syracuse depending on injuries, needs, effectiveness, and options. It’s a bit of a mixed bag. Righties Robert Gsellman and Miguel Castro are likely to be on the opening day roster. The latter can strike batters out, but also gives up way too many walks. Gsellman can go multiple innings and start in a pinch, but it’s been a few seasons now since he’s been really effective.

Jacob Barnes, Franklyn Kilome, Sam McWilliams, Sean Reid-Foley, Drew Smith, Stephen Tarpley, Daniel Zamora Yennsy Diaz figure to battle for the last spot, along with a number of spring training invites, like Jerry Blevins, Tommy Hunter, Mike Montgomery, Arodys Vizcaino, Ryley Gilliam, and others. There’s something to be said for the old adage of “strength in numbers,” but by mid-season, the Mets will certainly have had an opportunity to get a sense of who, if any, of these cast-offs, journeyman, and upstarts is worthy of sticking around in Queens.

Our bullpen is deep in terms of live arms worth a look, but it’s remarkably shallow in terms of arms that Manager Luis Rojas and Mets fans can truly rely on. It would be great if Betances, Familia or Gsellman can make a comeback or if one of these other relievers could emerge, but at the moment it looks like we have four go-to arms and one is injured. This won’t be enough to get us through the long season. Hopefully, Sandy Alderson and Zack Scott can find one more bullpen addition over the next few weeks. Otherwise, this will be our biggest area of concern and may be worth revisiting at the mid-season trade deadline.

The Mets dodged a bullet with George Springer

Noah Syndergaard and Michael ConfortoGeorge Springer is a terrific player and as a playoff-tested, right-handed slugger who plays a solid centerfield, he seemed to be the most coveted free agent for Mets fans. Alas, it was not meant to be, as the Blue Jays swooped in and snagged the former Astro All-Star for six years and $150 million.

The $25 million AAV is not far off what Springer was projected to get, but that extra year is tough to swallow. As this blogger has pointed out many times, centerfielders don’t age well. Sure, he’ll probably be good for another three years, but the back end of that contract could be ugly. At best, he’ll transition to a corner outfield position and still be able to slug 30 home runs per year. At worst? Well, remember Jacoby Ellsbury? How about Dexter Fowler? AJ Pollock? Lorenzo Cain? The list is long.

Back when the Mets signed Carlos Beltran to a then whopping seven-year, $119 million contract, he was just 27 years old. Springer turned 31 in September. There’s little question he will boost the Blue Jays offense for the next few years, but after that, his contract could be a problem. However, with most of their key players still in pre-arbitration years, the Blue Jays can afford to take on this gamble. The Mets cannot.

As Sandy Alderson and Steve Cohen have made clear, they want to build a sustainable winner. You simply don’t accomplish that by stockpiling expensive free agents.

The Mets have a nice core of young talent and some, like Pete Alonso, Dominic Smith, and Jeff McNeil, are still earning well below their market value as pre-arbitration players. However, many of our other key players, like Brandon Nimmo, J.D. Davis, and Seth Lugo, are seeing steady pay increases through arbitration. The biggest concern of course is that four of the main cogs on this team will hit free agency when this coming season ends – Francisco Lindor, Michael Conforto, Noah Syndergaard, and Marcus Stroman. That list also includes Steven Matz, Jeurys Familia and Dellin Betances, but these guys are obviously less of a concern.

Now, if we were still owned by the Wilpons, we’d be bracing ourselves to lose three out of four of those players. But those cheapskates who let us wave good-bye to homegrown favorites like Jose Reyes and Zack Wheeler are thankfully out of the picture. A certain avuncular billionaire owner wants his fans to be happy. Now, realistically, we won’t be able to keep Lindor, Conforto, Syndergaard and Stroman. But in order to have a chance to bring back two or hopefully three of them and keep the band together for sustained winning, we’re going to have to keep our 2021 spending in check.

The trade for Lindor and Carlos Carrasco was our big move and it was enormous. That move alone puts us firmly in the playoff discussion. Bringing back Stroman and signing Brian McCann, Trevor May and Jose Martinez, plus trading for Joey Lucchesi, helps solidify the roster for the coming season. By most accounts, the Mets are still nearly $30 million below the soft salary cap. And, by most accounts, the Mets still have a few remaining roster holes that need plugging.

Without Springer, and hopefully not Trevor Bauer, the Mets don’t need to eat up that remaining space with one contract. Although Brad Hand is currently being courted by multiple teams, a lefty reliever who can close would give us the best bullpen we’ve had in many years. A gold glove centerfielder like Jackie Bradley Jr. would give us a really strong up-the-middle defense. And a gold glove second baseman like Kolton Wong would give us a fantastic infield with McNeil moving over to third. These three combined might make less than what Bauer is seeking.

A cheaper version of this – Justin Wilson, Kevin Pillar, and Jonathan Villar – would still round out the roster and leave wiggle room for a mid-season acquisition, not to mention the possibility of extending one or more of the walk year players. Flexibility is key, as keeping a good team intact.

Look at the Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals as cautionary tales. Yes, they won World Series, but these teams were talked about as a sustained winners, if not potential dynasties. Fans in Boston and San Francisco can more easily swallow the downturn as they have three rings to show for it.

These days, the top players are seeking $30 million AAV contracts. Even if you can support a $200 million payroll, you really can’t have more than two or three of those guys on your team and hope to fill out a roster. This isn’t the NBA where two superstars can win you a title. You could literally have the three best players in baseball on your team – say Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, and Jacob deGrom – and still finish in last place if the rest of your team stinks. The Nationals have $100 million spoken for by the front of their rotation and had to bid adieu to Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon in successive off-seasons. Now their team consists of the three pitchers, a few young stars, and a whole lot of marginal players.

Of course MattyMets wants to see his team win it all for the first time since he was 14, but what he really wants is for the Mets to be like the Cardinals or Dodgers, who seem to be in the playoffs every year. Locking up guys like Conforto and Syndergaard is the best way to make that happen.

Here’s how the Mets could outsmart and outpitch the league.

Mets pitchersIt sure feels like Christmas for Mets fans with a deep-pocketed, new owner ready to spend and a capable and familiar President of Baseball Operations ushering in a new front office equipped to recognize and harness the talent this franchise needs to get us back to playing baseball in October.

As much as the off-season has gotten off to a slow start, the Mets have been dominating the hot stove discussions. Nearly every big name free agent or trade candidate has had their name tied to Queens in off-season rumors. So far so good, but the heavy lifting is about to begin.

Preparing this Mets team for 2021 will take more than an aggressive free agency; it will require a well thought out approach that puts us a step ahead of the competition. Just as we’ve watched other teams revolutionize the game with the use of analytics, shifts, launch angle, and more, the Mets have a chance to have a secret winning strategy of their own this coming season.

We all know the Mets need to add a new starting pitcher. But MattyMets is here to argue we need at least two, if not three. Prediction: rotation depth will be the key to the 2021 season for all teams.

As it stands, our rotation is led by the best pitcher in baseball, followed by a solid number two. You could argue that we could add one quality starter and patch together the back end between the untested David Peterson, the enigmatic Steven Matz and the miscast Seth Lugo. MattyMets disagrees.

Even if the upcoming season ends up being 162 games with a familiar set of rules, it will be a wonky season. Here’s why. There will need to be innings limits imposed on every single starting pitcher, or else we’re going to see a rash of elbow injuries like we’ve never seen before.

If you give merit to the Verducci effect, pitchers are far more susceptible to arm injuries when there is a significant increase in innings pitched from one season to the next. Going from one 32-start/200-inning season to the next, a pitcher is prepared. But, going from an injury-shortened (or Covid-shortened) 12-start/70-inning season to a full one leaves a pitcher very vulnerable. The leading 2020 innings eater was Lance Lynn with just 84 IP. Jacob deGrom threw 68, Peterson threw 49.2, Marcus Stroman threw zero innings and it’s not yet clear who will fill out the rotation. This is a problem.

Smart teams will be prepared with deep bullpens featuring a few old-school long reliever/spot starter types (where’s Terry Leach when we need him?). Shrewd GMs will stack their triple A affiliate with veteran arms who can step in as needed. Signing former Phillies pitcher Jerad Eickhoff was a good start. Though he struggled recently, he has a live arm and some solid seasons behind him. He’s still 29 so there’s a chance for a bounce back and he’s worth a look. The Mets should look for a few more guys like that.

The smartest and boldest move of all would be to implement a six-man rotation. This way there are reasonable expectations placed on starters, injury risk is reduced, and there’s a better chance of them having some steam left heading into the post-season, which the Mets plan to attend in 2021.

Rather than putting all their eggs in one basket, like say spending $30mm on Trevor Bauer, the Mets might be better served bringing in two $10-$15 million arms, plus taking a flyer on a few guys coming off down years or injuries. The teams that succeed will be the ones that best prepared for the certain uncertainty of 2021.

Steve Cohen could top the 2008 Yankees spending spree

raining cashThe 2008 New York Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time since 1993. They were about to move into their newly renovated ballpark with more luxury suites. The Steinbrenners had money to spend and Yankee fans were eager to get right back into contention. Luckily for them, the stars aligned as the free agent class that winter was topped by three star players who could put the Yankees right back into October baseball.

While the rest of baseball was utterly shocked, Yankee fans celebrated Christmas all winter long as the Yankees committed a whopping $424 million in contracts to snatch up all three of the big off-season prizes. If that seems like a lot of money now, remember that this was 12 years ago.

In desperate need of pitching, the Yankees roped in likely future Hall of Famer CC Sabathia with a 7-year/$161 million deal. At the time, that was a monster contract. To further shore up their rotation, the Yankees also grabbed A.J. Burnett for 5-years/$83 million. However, the biggest contract that off-season went to the switch-hitting, gold-glove first baseman, Mark Teixeira. He signed for a then staggering 8-years/$180 million.

In case anyone reading this doesn’t recall how that investment turned out, the Yankees won the World Series in 2009. Meanwhile, Mets fans were less celebratory upon hearing the Braves outbid us for Derek Lowe and we settled for resigning Oliver Perez to a three-year/$36 million contract. We also signed Francisco Rodriguez to a three-year/$37 million deal.

Now the shoe is on the other foot, or, rather the coin purse is in another borough. Now, at long freakin’ last, the stars have aligned for us. All of our dreams came true as billionaire and lifelong Mets fan Steve Cohen bought the team away from the penny pinching Wilpon family. On top of Cohen’s riches, the Mets also have plenty of wiggle room with contracts coming off the books, including a surprise $20.25 million courtesy of the Robinson Cano PED suspension. And, as luck would have it, many of the top available free agents play our biggest positions of need – starting pitcher, catcher, and center field.

As if that wasn’t enough to get excited about, most teams will be hesitant to spend this off-season, as they lost millions in revenue in 2020 with Covid-19 robbing them of earnings from ticket sales, concessions, parking, merchandise, etc. Cohen lost no money last year because he didn’t own a baseball team until right now. Not only is he the richest owner in Major League Baseball, but he may also be the luckiest.

Maybe it’s so ingrained in us from the lean Wilpon years to think, oh, maybe now we can get one of the big free agents – which one should we get? Hence, there have been endless debates on this blog, and anywhere else intelligent Mets fans gather, about whether we should go after the ace pitcher, the All-Star catcher, or the playoff tested centerfielder. Why can we only have one?

We all dream of winning the lottery. If you win the small state jackpot, maybe you pay off your bills and go on an exotic vacation. But, if you win the Powerball jackpot, you take care of everyone you know, buy a giant house and a fancy car, season tickets to the Mets, and still have more left than you know what to do with. Hmm, maybe I should be shopping for a yacht or a private jet or an island! You get the point?

At the top tier of this year’s free agent class are Trevor Bauer, J.T. Realmuto, and George Springer, referenced above, as well as two-time batting champ DJ LeMahieu and slugger Marcell Ozuna. These are very good players who would look great in blue and orange, but none of them are generational talents like Mike Trout or Mookie Betts. No one above is going to command a 10-year/$300 million+ contract. Factor in the shortage of competition from so many teams in the red, and the Mets are in the catbird seat to corral three of these guys.

How much would that take? Well, the wildcard is Bauer, who has previously been committed to playing on one-year contracts. Coming off a Cy Young season, might he be convinced to finally commit to one team?  If yes, it could set off a bidding war with all of the California teams seeking starting pitching. If that is the case, Bauer could push toward something in the neighborhood of 7-years/$210 million. Is this mercurial and only recently dominant pitcher really worth that much? MattyMets doesn’t think so, but perhaps some of you do.

As for the other four players, Realmuto and Springer could command something like 5-years/$125 while Lemahieu and Ozuna a bit less at 4-years/$92 million. So, if Cohen, Alderson and our as-yet-to-be-named General Manager want to add arguably the three best available free agents to our roster, it might cost $460 million. That would indeed top the 2008-9 Yankees haul, but then, it’s 12 years later.

Cohen likely doesn’t care nearly as much about sticking it to the Yankees as he does fielding a winner in Queens, but if that is a goal of his, a cheaper way to accomplish that would be to simply outbid the Bronx Bombers for LeMahieu.

It’s hard to fathom, like with the Powerball, but we actually won. Yeah, Mets fans really won!  Let that sink in because now, it’s time to spend, baby. #LFGM

Mets will face a tough decision on Marcus Stroman

With the 2020 season up in the air, any Mets who were entering their walk years, will be suddenly facing free agency. This includes Yoenis Cespedes, Wilson Ramos, and several pitchers, most notably, Marcus Stroman.

After the Mets parted with two of their top pitching prospects – Anthony Kay and Simeon Woods Richardson – to land the former Blue Jays ace at last year’s summer trade deadline, the expectation was that Stroman would serve as the mid-rotation replacement for Zack Wheeler, who was on the verge of free agency. Once Noah Syndergaard went down for Tommy John surgery, Stroman became the Mets number two starter heading into the 2020 season.

The former ace, who is in the prime of his career and seems excited to be in New York, was up to the challenge. In less than half a season as a Met last season, Stroman showed an uncanny ability to induce ground balls, as well as the best fielding off the mound we’ve seen since Ron Darling was our number two. Stroman, short in stature, but long on athletic prowess, possesses an interesting pitch repertoire that offers a nice change of pace in the Mets hard throwing rotation. He relies on a mix of sinkers, two-seamers, cutters, sliders and change-ups. He generally pitches low in the zone and pitches to contact, though he does rack up his share of strikeouts too.

Born and raised in New York and just short of 29, Stroman seemed to be poised to have a nice second act with the Mets, only he’s very quickly going to hit free agency. The sacrifice in prospects was significant, but the Mets thought they were getting a season and a half of control at the time, which may not be the case now. Of course, the Mets could never have predicted that the 2020 season would be either shortened or canceled at the time of the trade, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re going to have to make an important decision on the right hander sooner than later.

Simply letting him walk is probably not wise given that, in 2021, Syndergaard will be coming off a lost season to surgery and entering his last year of control, and rotation mates Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha will also be hitting free agency. Stroman was set to earn $12 million this year, his last arbitration eligible season. On the open market, a prime age pitcher with Stroman’s pedigree is sure to command a $20 million per season, multi-year contract. Given the economic turn of events since Zack Wheeler cashed in on his deal, Stroman might command a bit less, but still will not come cheap given the dearth of quality, available starters each off-season.

Offering that type of deal would require a pretty big leap of faith on the part of Mets ownership who, fairly, won’t have seen much of Stroman in New York. However, with so much uncertainty right now, from the 2020 season to Mets ownership change rumors, it remains a possibility.

If, on the other hand, the Mets front office decides to let Stroman walk, the Mets would be left with both a depleted farm system and a half empty rotation.

Noah Syndergaard’s injury raises a lot of questions

That the hard-throwing, weight lifting Noah Syndergaard finally succumbed to Tommy John surgery wasn’t that big of a surprise. After all, the list of triple digit fastball throwers who haven’t torn their ulnar collateral ligament is a lot shorter than the list of pitchers with that tell-tale ugly scar on the inside of their arm. Whether this is due to modern training regimens, strict pitch counts, hard sliders, or other factors is beside the point. The inevitable happened and now we’re left to wonder how to overcome this loss, should the 2020 baseball season ever resume as scheduled. The injury raises several other questions as well.

Did the Mets organization see this coming?
It seems that way given that they’d made several attempts to trade Syndergaard over the past two years. There had been a lot of speculation, including from this blogger, that the Mets might be better served locking up Zack Wheeler and using Syndergaard as a valuable trade chip. Wheeler already has Tommy John surgery in the rear view and would likely come a little cheaper (though that remains to be seen in light of the monster contract Philadelphia gave him), plus the younger and more controllable Syndergaard was a more valuable in trade. Suspecting this injury was coming certainly would have helped instigate this push.

If the Mets thought this was inevitable, what was the main reason?
Is it really just that it seems to happen to all hard-throwing pitchers these days or was there more to the presumed speculation? Was the front office concerned about his weight lifting? Maybe they saw something in his mechanics that might make him more susceptible to an elbow injury? Or perhaps, more nefariously, their medical staff noted the hint of something during a physical exam? Purely conspiratorial speculation, but it’s no different than astute fans on Twitter and Reddit connecting the dots between Brodie Van Wagenen, A.J. Hinch, Jessica Mendoza, Carlos Beltran and Jake Marisnick.

How long will Syndergaard be out of service?
Obviously, he won’t step on a pitcher’s mound in 2020, though he will still collect every penny of his $9.7 million salary, so don’t feel too badly for him. If Syndergaard is able to have the surgery now, which is no given in this environment, it typically takes about 15 months for recovery which would put him into June 2021 and that’s optimistic. Wheeler needed two years. Matt Harvey and many others came back relatively quickly only to suffer a second, more serious injury.

Will he ever be the same pitcher?
Optimistically, he could be better. One of the issues with Syndergaard is that he seems to forget that he can’t just overpower Major Leaguers. This isn’t AAA where a 100 mph will blow most hitters away. At the highest level, no fastball is too fast, especially when it’s relatively flat. With a low-spin rate and an inability to pitch up in the zone, Syndergaard is surprisingly hittable for a pitcher with his power. If he loses a tick off his fastball, he might learn to rely on it less and get batters out with a better mix of secondary pitches and location.

Who will replace him in the rotation?
Well, at least we can knock off that stupid chatter about having six starters, as if that presented a problem. If and when this season starts, we can expect a rotation of Jacob deGrom, Marcus Stroman, Steven Matz, Rick Porcello, and Michael Wacha. That’s not the best group of starters we’ve ever had in Queens, but it’s potentially strong enough to get us into the playoffs, particularly with a powerful lineup providing run support.

Who is next in line?
This is where it gets a little thorny. Given the injury histories of Wacha and Matz, and the lack of available free agents at this moment, the Mets would be wise to stretch out either Seth Lugo or Robert Gsellman to be ready to jump into the rotation. One could argue Lugo is already their third best starter. Meanwhile, if Gsellman can recapture his slider/sinker combo with a better baseball (i.e., higher seams) this year, he can certainly be effective as a starter, as he showed a few years ago. David Peterson, who is slated to begin the year in Syracuse, showed a lot of promise in spring training. The AAA rotation was also expected to include Corey Oswalt, Stephen Gonsalves, Walker Lockett and Erasmo Ramirez. Any of those arms could wind up in Flushing at some point in the season.

Does this foil our chances at a 2020 playoff run?
No. Syndergaard is an important part of the team, but we can win without him. This is not deGrom we’re talking about. Stroman is a very capable number two and the rest of the rotation is good enough. This looks to be the best offense we’ve had since 2006 and the bullpen, with a few bounce back years and the addition of Dellin Betances, should be at least good, if not great. At the mid-season trade deadline, whenever that turns out to be, the Mets could always look to make an addition, but for now, this rotation is good enough to begin the season with, and potentially good enough to lead us atop the NL East.

2020 Mets have a path to the pennant

“Here goes MattyMets again with his far-flung optimism,” I can hear Chris F saying from miles away.

My optimism has as much to do with the state of the National League as my confidence in our current team. Having read through every season preview I can get my hands on, I have a pretty good idea of the competition we’ll be facing and, outside of the Dodgers, I’m not intimidated nor impressed. Here’s a quick overview.

First of all, of the 15 teams in the National League, there are three who have zero chance to be competitive. Even if everything breaks right from health to emerging rookie stars, the Marlins, Giants and Pirates are all virtually guaranteed a last place finish. This is not to say we can expect to sweep all games against these three cellar dwellers (Sandy Alcantara can always pitch a shutout for example), but we should have no trouble beating up on them consistently.

The other 12 will compete for five playoff spots. The Dodgers, who added the games second best player to a team that has won the division the past seven years, are expected to make it eight. This team is stacked with talent, deep in all areas and has two rookies coming up who are among the best prospects in the game. Getting past them will be the biggest challenge facing the Mets, but I’m getting ahead of myself. First, how do we get past the other 10 playoff contenders?

Half of them got worse in the off-season. Yes, we’re in the same division as the World Series champion Nationals (weird to say that) and two-time division winning Atlanta Braves, but both lost their cleanup hitter since last year. The emergence of Juan Soto as a superstar helped the Nats overcome the loss of Bryce Harper last year, but replacing Anthony Rendon is another matter. Trea Turner and Adam Eaton will set the table for Soto and that trio will produce runs, but the rest of the lineup features a lot of replacement level players and spare parts. Victor Robles might develop into something more, but right now he looks like a defense-first outfielder in the mold of Jason Heyward. Can the Nationals keep their rotation healthy again? This is a tall order considering the extra post-season work load coupled with the long injury histories of Stephen Strasburg and Anibal Sanchez.

The Braves lineup, in similar fashion, falls off at the bottom. Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna, Jr. and Freddie Freeman are their big three and Marcell Ozuna will do his best to replace Josh Donaldson. Beyond these four, no one will scare opposing pitchers. And unlike the Nationals, the Braves don’t have a rotation led by veteran aces. Theirs is led by young up-and-comers who are all either not battle tested or operating on innings limitations.

Another 2019 playoff team who looks to take a step back this year is the Brewers. Operating under a tight budget, the Brewers watched half their lineup leave via free agency, including sluggers Mike Moustakas and Yasmani Grandal. This is especially unwelcome news given how mediocre their rotation has been. The only things keeping the Brewers out of the NL Central basement are Christian Yelich and the Pittsburgh Pirates. Their division rival Cubs also look to have gotten worse. Gone is big name manager Joe Maddon, pitcher Cole Hamels and catalyst Ben Zobrist. This team has no lead-off man, too many strikeout hitters and a weak looking bullpen. Their sluggers and rotation, if all healthy, can keep them at .500 but getting beyond that will be challenging with all the holes in their 2020 roster.

One other team who looks to be worse in 2020 is the Colorado Rockies. They return a typically potent lineup, but made no off-season additions to shore up a pitching staff that struggled last year. Star Nolan Arenado is publicly very unhappy about this and that can’t help matters. Our old friend Daniel Murphy looked old and slow last year and was reportedly scolded for letting himself get out of shape.

Another category of teams are ones who improved and could be better this year, but still have too many holes. The Phillies, who added Zack Wheeler and Didi Gregorious to their .500 team are a prime example. The lineup looks solid, as does the front of their rotation and back end of their bullpen, but this is a top heavy team with some glaring roster holes. The Reds made some nice additions and could be the most improved team in the league. Last year they boosted the rotation with the additions of Trevor Bauer and Sonny Gray and now they’ve added doubles machine Nick Castellanos and slugger Mike Moustakas to their lineup. This might not be a playoff team, but they could be in the chase come September. Another team that could surprise is the Diamondbacks. Gone are mainstays Zack Grienke and Paul Goldschmidt, but management opted to retool instead of rebuild and more or less replaced those guys with Madison Bumgarner, Starling Marte, Kole Calhoun and others. The Padres might be the team to beat in another year or two when a few more of their ballyhooed prospects come up, but for now they look like the National League’s version of the Angels–all bats and not enough arms. Although to be fair, their bullpen at least looks formidable.

So, who does that leave? The Dodgers, Mets and Cardinals. The Cardinals don’t have the strongest lineup, beyond Goldschmidt, but they have a strong defense and solid bullpen supporting what could be one of the best rotations in baseball. Jack Flaherty and Dakota Hudson make a potent one-two punch and are backed up by Carlos Martinez, Miles Mikolas, and the veteran Adam Wainwright, who is now only counted on as fifth starter.

This Mets team is not perfect. Our defense is weak. We don’t have enough depth at the upper levels of our minors. We have a rookie manager and a bullpen with questions. However, we still have one of the better rotations in the league and our lineup may well be the best and deepest we’ve had since 2006 when we won 97 games. We scored a heck of a lot of runs last year with no Yoenis Cespedes, basically no Jed Lowrie and very little of Brandon Nimmo. Plus, perennial All-Star Robinson Cano played injured and had a terrible first half of the season. We just missed the playoffs last year with 86 wins. This year, behind an imposing lineup, quality pitching and the fun camaraderie of a team that digs the game, each other and their new manager, the Mets will do more than make it. We’re gonna win 95 games, take the division and meet the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series. Getting past them to the World Series will be tough, but this optimist won’t bet against the 2020 Mets.

World Series or bust. #LFGM

Ya Gotta Believe?!

Against all odds and reason, the Mets are now within spitting distance of the second wild card with a real chance to fight for the playoffs. These are the same Mets who were left for dead at the All-Star break a month ago, after a brutal month of June all but sunk their season. But something clicked and the team has gone on a miraculous 19-6 since then, to climb back in the hunt.

They’ve been feasting on a weak schedule. They’ve been riding a healthy rotation that’s hitting it’s stride. And the bullpen and defense haven’t been as disastrous as they were earlier in the season. Other NL teams went cold. Maybe Pete Alonso‘s rally cry of #LFGM got them going. Maybe it was the decision to not trade a starting pitcher and instead add one at the trade deadline. Maybe their new pitching coach has helped straighten out issues with some of the hurlers. Whatever the case is, this team has been more fun to root for since 2016.

The team now sits three games over .500 at 59-56 with a lot of baseball left to play – 47 games to be exact. Or, looking at it another way, 15 series. Of those 15, just five are against teams under .500 and eight are against NL East rivals. To “play meaningful games in September,” the Mets will need to win more than half of their remaining games, nine of which are against the division-leading Braves. Fifteen games will be against the Phillies, Nationals and Cubs, who all currently sit between the Mets and a wild card spot. The Mets will also play three against likely playoff-bound Cleveland. Simply beating up on the bad teams – Kansas City, Arizona, Colorado, Cincinnati and Miami – might not be enough to land a wild card. It will likely take at least 87 wins, which requires the Mets go 28-19 the rest of the way.

It’s not impossible. Especially with our rotation and the momentum we have going. Plus, we have more remaining games at home than on the road. But the remaining schedule makes it a real challenge. We may not have a chance to catch the Braves in the division, but we’d better stand up to them in three upcoming series if we’re to have a shot at the post-season. And let’s not forget, we’re in fourth place. The Phillies and Nationals won’t make it easy for us to leap frog them in the standings.

Savor this moment, fellow Mets fans. Wear your blue and orange hats and shirts proudly. For a few days, the sun is shining on us and we’re happily licking at our ice cream cones. It could be gone my Monday as the Nationals are coming to town this weekend with their three top pitchers looking to knock our cones splat on the sidewalk.