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MLB Preview: Can the Mets’ Starters Pitch Them to the NL East Title?

Courtesy: mets360.com

A season after losing to the Royals in the World Series the Mets had an 87-win season in 2016, finishing behind the Nationals in the NL East, and losing to the Giants in the National League Wild Card game in the playoffs. The Mets didn’t make any notable moves in the offseason. They lost SP Bartolo Colon in free agency, opening up a spot in their starting rotation, which has high upside with the likes of Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey, who is coming off an injury that limited him to 17 starts last season and ending his season in early July. Barring an injury SP Steven Matz should be able to get 30-plus starts for the first time in his major league career, which could provide a boost to the pitching staff if he can pitch well out of the No. 4 spot in the rotation. OF Yoenis Cespedes will likely be relied upon to lead the offense with injury questions surrounding veteran 3B David Wright, who had to leave spring training early to head back to New York to have doctors look at a shoulder injury, which could prevent him from being ready for Opening Day.

The Mets ranked near the bottom of the majors with a .246 average last season, but their 218 home runs were fifth-best among the 30 teams. Cespedes and OF Curtis Granderson led the team with 31 and 30 home runs, respectively, while 2B Neil Walker‘s .282 average was tops among the team’s starting position players. Cespedes’ 31 home runs put him in a tie for the ninth most in the National League and his .530 slugging percentage was also ninth in the NL. 3B Jose Reyes, who played 60 games with the team as a midseason free-agent signing, had one of his best seasons in recent years, hitting .267 with 8 home runs. Young OF Michael Conforto showed some power last season, hitting 12 home runs in 304 at-bats, but hit just .220 and struck out 89 times.

On the mound, Syndergaard had one of the best seasons among all major league pitchers, posting a 2.60 ERA with 218 strikeouts in 183.2 innings while compiling a 14-9 record. His 6.0 WAR ranked sixth among all players in the NL. The Mets also saw a good year out of deGrom, who had a 3.04 ERA in an injury-shortened season during which he threw 148 innings in 24 starts, striking out 143. Harvey, who was limited to just 92.2 innings, put up a disappointing 4.86 ERA and struck out only 76 batters. Closer Jeurys Familia recorded 51 saves in 56 opportunities. He notched 84 strikeouts and a 2.55 ERA over 77.2 innings.

Heading into this season, the Mets need to get more consistent at getting on base, they can’t rely on the long ball as much as they did last year. A key piece to the offense will be OF Jay Bruce, who struggled at the plate after being traded by the Reds to the Mets at the trade deadline. Bruce is the projected starter in right field, but he may not hold that job long if he doesn’t improve upon the .219 he hit in his 50 games with the team last season. Conforto is lurking behind Bruce on the depth chart, waiting to take over for the veteran if he can’t perform to the Mets’ expectations.

It might be hard for Syndergaard to repeat his performance from last season, but if he can even come close to that he’ll be a strong ace of a young rotation. The questions come with the rest of the starters, including whether Harvey is fully recovered from his injury and can make it through the full season and if Matz can handle a full-season workload after throwing 132 innings in the majors last season. The Mets shouldn’t have much concern about their bullpen, with Familia coming off two seasons with 43 and 51 saves. The caveat with that is a possible suspension looming for Familia, who was arrested for domestic violence last year. If he misses time for that, RPs Addison Reed or Hansel Robles would likely get the bulk of the save opportunities in his absence.

The Mets and Nationals should continue to fight for the top spot in the East this season, though the Mets are likely going to be on the worse end of that battle if the offense doesn’t pick things up. The team will likely have to rely on the starting rotation to keep them in games and help them get victories if they want to make it to the playoffs for a third straight season.

Sources: http://www.mets.com, http://www.baseball-reference.com

Scott Jenkins
I am a writer who enjoys writing about sports, with a focus on baseball. You can read more of my writing on my blog at http://thoughtsfromscottj.wordpress.com
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