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.

3 ex-Mets singin’ the swan song

In the past week, former Mets Matt Harvey, Asdrubal Cabrera and Lucas Duda were released by their teams. Harvey’s attempt to resurrect his stalled career with the Angels came up way short as he put up embarrassing numbers. Duda had a similar experience before being cut loose by Kansas City. Cabrera was  slashing a modest .235/.318/.393 when he was released by the Rangers. Everyone’s favorite ex-Met, Curtis Granderson, may be next in line as the veteran has been hitting below the Mendoza line almost all season for the Marlins.

It’s a bit sad really as these players all hold their place in Mets history. For too short a period, Harvey electrified the whole city as the Dark Knight. Though the back of his baseball card may not reflect it – thanks largely to a lack of run support – Harvey had two brilliant seasons for the Mets and a very memorable post-season. At his peak, Harvey had mound presence and swagger to go along with a filthy arsenal of pitches. He can still throw 95 mph, but the extra ticks, the late movement and the trademark two-strike slider are all gone. Harvey is still young enough to attempt a comeback. Maybe with some rest, strength training and the right mentors he can find a second life as a back-of-the-rotation guy or reliever.

Mets fans have a tainted view of Duda as he made one of the most costly errors in the 2015 World Series. He’s also well-remembered for hitting home runs either with a big lead or no one on base. That said, the big guy was a likable, soft-spoken guy with a boyish farmboy charm and you never knew when he might launch one onto Shea Bridge. Plus, he was such a good sport about letting Granderson and others make him the butt of clubhouse gags and social media jokes.

Granderson left an indelible mark on the Mets organization just through his charitable and community efforts. His infectious smile, energy on the field and penchant for the big hit certainly won over his New York fans as well. And who could forget his brilliant catch in the 2016 Wild Card game? This may be Granderson’s last year as a player, but, with his charm, you have to think we’ll be seeing more of him around the game. He’s really well suited as an MLB Network or ESPN personality.

Cabrera, due to his versatility, may well find a new home to finish out the season, and along with several other ex-Mets he’s hoping he might have one more good one left in the tank. Relievers Addison Reed, Fernando Salas and Carlos Torres have all struggled this year either with injuries, effectiveness or both. But with so many bullpens in disarray, a new job is always a phone call away.

When it comes to relievers, the Mets have a lot of ex-players floating around, some better than others – Darren O’Day, Ollie Perez, Hansel Robles, Jon Gant, Joe Smith, Jerry Blevins, Chasen Bradford, Gabriel Ynoa, Tyler Clippard and probably a few more that I missed. Relievers are hard to predict, but there are some ex-Met everyday players still making hay, like Daniel Murphy, Justin Turner, Jay Bruce, Wilmer Flores, and Neil Walker.  Catcher Travis d’Arnaud is bouncing like a dead cat in Tampa, while his former caddy, Kevin Plawecki, is hanging on as a backup in Cleveland.

Maybe I’m alone in this, but I watch for these names in the box scores. They may not be on the Mets anymore, but some of them – like Granderson and Flores – are hard not to continue rooting for, as long as they’re not playing against the Mets.

 

An optimistic Mets fan

Over the years, Mets360 followers have labeled MattyMets here an eternal optimist. It’s funny because that’s not a label my close friends or family would ever use to describe me. I’m thoughtful, sensitive and moody, true to my astrological sign (pisces). In keeping with that theme, I’m also loyal to a fault. I’ve always stood up for my friends in times of need and stood by years after they let me down. Disappointment can be heartbreaking. And so, it makes perfect sense that, for as far back as I can remember, I’ve been a devoted Mets fan.

There have been some years when I know the Mets are going to stink. Like in 2014 when Dillon Gee was our opening day starter. Or 2005 when Doug Mientkiewicz was our opening day first baseman. The mid-90s teams with Rico Brogna and Butch Huskey were certainly not teams worth wagering on. Nor were the moribund teams of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Pat Zachry! Steve Henderson! Elliott Maddox! John Stearns!

Most years, I tune into game one with the notion that the Mets are in first place. We haven’t lost yet, right? The long season lies ahead and a lot can go right. The rookies look fast on the bases and in the field in spring training. The new free agent is going to earn his paycheck and make it in New York. The veterans are going to stay healthy. This is the year that third or fourth year player that hasn’t quite lived up to the hype figures it all out. We’ve got MVP candidates and Cy Young candidates and maybe even the next Rookie of the Year.

The 2015 Mets surprised me and performed a lot better than I ever could have dreamed. This blue moon occurrence happens when a cavalry of young guns all arrive and pan out in unison. Since then, I’ve pegged every Mets team as a bona fide contender.

The 2016 team squeaked into the playoffs on a wild card. Noah Syndergaard pitched the game of his life and Curtis Granderson made the catch of his life. But no one could lay a bat on Madison Bumgarner and Jeurys Familia gave up a most unlikely game-ending, heart-breaking home run to someone named Conor Gillaspie. I was there and it hurt, deeply.

In 2017, the Mets confidently brought back most of the same crew, but, one-by-one the pitchers all went down. In 2018, the Mets brought in reinforcements and I was certain we’d get back to the playoffs. This time it was our hitters that couldn’t stay healthy. A tough stretch in May and June when half our team was on the disabled list (that’s what they called it back in 2018) railroaded our season.

This year, a new general manager has taken a novel approach. Our team is still built around our strong rotation, but now they’re supported by a sturdy and deep bullpen. And our lineup is supported by a deep bench, that is supported by veteran reserves stashed in AAA for emergencies. Injuries should not derail the 2019 season, even though our best hitter is expected to miss at least half the year.

Our rotation is one of the best around and our bullpen should be nearly as good. Our lineup is an interesting mix of kids and veterans with a handful of exciting players on the cusp of stardom. Our defense looks a little suspect, and our division is strong, but there’s something about this team that spells winner. I think this is a playoff year.