It seems like ages ago, but in fact it was only April when we picked the New York Mets to win the World Series in 2016. The pitching was simply too fearsome and the lineup would have the epic Yoenis Cespedes right smack in the middle all year, or so the thinking went.
Several injuries and disappointments later, Terry Collins’ club finds itself in a dogfight for the Wild Card at the start of the second half. So are the Mets still World Series contenders by any stretch of the imagination? To consider this team a legitimate threat through September and into October, it will take a lot of patching internally and better health throughout the organization. As with all things Mets, it starts with pitching.
Top of the rotation intact
Matt Harvey is out for the rest of the year with thoracic outlet syndrome, so Mets fans have to get used to rooting for a team without its horse (bull?), the one pitcher who seemed to thrive in the brightest postseason spotlight. Nonetheless, the loss of one starter should not be enough to drown a team with Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz in the rotation. That is, if all of the above are healthy.
The cracks in the Mets arms-first model became apparent in the run-up to the break when Matz and Syndergaard both dealt with bone spur scares in the elbows of their throwing arms. While Matz has the more serious case of the two, Syndergaard’s bout with the dreaded “dead arm” before the break was more unnerving news.
Without the top of this rotation (what’s left of it) throwing at full health, there is no hope for the Mets. It can survive without Harvey and maybe even without Matz, but Syndergaard and deGrom are essential pieces at this point.
Rebound of the offense
The Mets of early 2015 were a dreadful bunch to behold on offense. Then Hurricane Yoenis blew into town and elevated the team to a powerhouse at the plate. In 2016, Cespedes has once again held up his end of the bargain. He entered the All-Star break with a .302 average, 21 HR, and a .955 OPS — career-best numbers across the board, worthy of an MVP candidate.
As for the rest of the Mets offense, “disappointing” doesn’t even begin to describe the state of affairs. Michael Conforto, the club’s great hope from the farm, has gone back to where he came from (i.e., Triple-A) in 2016. Curtis Granderson entered the break hitting .239/.338/.458.
Maybe a rebound is in order with Travis d’Arnaud back, Jose Reyes producing in his homecoming, and the four-game clubbing of Cubs pitching a sign of things to come. Yet it’s hard to see the Wilmer Flores/Brandon Nimmo show as sustainable, so there are major concerns in this department.
Wizardry from the front office
Mets GM Sandy Alderson has been something of a wizard these past few seasons, with a knack for pushing the right button when it seemed like the club was headed for vintage Amazin’ mediocrity. This season, the additions of Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera have kept the team afloat, and the call-up of Nimmo before the Cubs series made Alderson look like a genius.
Where does Alderson take the Mets from here? The bullpen looks strong enough to carry the club in the late innings, and it would be tough to justify major moves within the lineup or rotation. The front office has to be praying for the health of Lucas Duda and the revival of Conforto before the season slips away. New York’s Wild Card competition — which includes the Pirates, Cardinals, and Dodgers — should be formidable down the stretch.
It’s hard to see this Mets club catching and dispatching a stronger, wiser Nationals team by the end of the season, so maybe it is Wild Card-or-nothing for New York. At the start of the second half, there are too many question marks to consider the Mets World Series contenders.
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