clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The Quick Ascent - A New York Mets preview

New, 13 comments

A look ahead at our first National League opponent of the season

Two wild and cah-raaaazy guyyyys.
Two wild and cah-raaaazy guyyyys.
Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Prior to last season, the New York Mets hadn't posted a winning record since 2008. It's pretty easy to pinpoint the exact moment at which their fortunes turned for the better. On July 31, 2015, the Mets were 52-50, three games back of the ostensibly more talented Washington Nationals and facing an even further uphill climb to jump into the Wild Card conversation. It wasn't the most desperate of situations, but things weren't looking great.

Not only did the Mets shave a game off Washington's lead on that day, but they made the move that would define their stretch run. With some other teams in the mix, including the White Sox, the Mets pulled of a trade to acquire Yoenis Cespedes from the Detroit Tigers. To say that this move breathed some life into the offense would be an understatement.

A decent won-loss record masked the fact that the Mets had struggled to score runs all year long. Coming into August, the team had averaged a mere 3.54 runs per game. That number spiked to 5.39 after the trade deadline. Cespedes hit .287/.337/.604 after arriving in New York. That's a great line, but it doesn't come close to reconciling the team-wide performance. Whatever narrative you want to believe, the Mets were a different team after July 31st.

With an improved offensive attack, the Mets finished 90-72 and seven games in front of a Nationals team that absolutely imploded. They earned the right to challenge the Kansas City Royals for a World Series title and came up short, a result that was somewhat surprising given the ease with which they dispatched the surging Chicago Cubs in the NLCS. The Mets had four homegrown starters that looked like they would carry them all the way, but that's just not the way it played out.

Fortunately, when you develop controllable players, you can use them to get multiple bites at the apple and the Mets returned stars Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, Jacob DeGrom, and Steven Matz to this year's team. Along with the spherical and ageless Bartolo Colon, the Mets retained their excellent 2015 starting rotation. Though each of the four starters under the age of 40 entered this year with some semblance of an "ace" label, Snydergaard is a cut above the rest and a true contender to be called the best pitcher in baseball, non-Kershaw division. He throws in the upper-90s and has begun to mix in a wipeout slider this year. All of Syndergaard's pitches are filthy; he seems to truly have no weakness.

DeGrom is less flashy than Syndergaard; he typically throws in the mid-90s, but his velocity (and therefore, his strikeouts) are down a little bit this year from what he's used to. Nonetheless, DeGrom has excellent mechanics and command, so even when he doesn't have his swing-and-miss stuff, mistakes are few and far between. Matz is the token lefty of the bunch. He throws about as hard as DeGrom, and relies fairly heavily on his fastball. The pitch that generates the most whiffs is his mid-80's changeup, which probably explains the reverse platoon splits that he's had since arriving in the big leagues.

The one guy of the group who hasn't been having any success is Harvey. The combination of Harvey's occasional unfriendliness to media and teammates and his poor pitching has become a powder keg of a situation in the Mets clubhouse and everyone seems to be searching for answers. Harvey's velocity is down across the board this year, and all of his pitchers have been getting hammered. The .374 BABIP he's posted (100 points above his career norms) hasn't helped much, but when you're getting hit as hard as Harvey has, a high BABIP can be a self-created problem.

The Mets have been able to survive Harvey's struggles not only because the rest of the rotation is so strong, but because the offense has been able to produce. Cespedes is once again the anchor of everything, leading the National League in home runs, RBI, and slugging while playing in pitcher-friendly Citi Field. He's had plenty of help from young star Michael Conforto. Conforto has loads of power, but it seems the Mets are intent on using the lefty solely against right-handed pitchers and have him in a psuedo-platoon with Juan Lagares. It's odd that a 23-year-old has been given so little rope against same-handed pitching, but in management's defense, all Conforto has done with that rope is soak it in kerosene and burn it.

These two guys have been the core of the offense, but they've had plenty of help from other power sources, as the Mets lead all of baseball in home runs. Longtime Mets star David Wright has been selling out for the longball and it's made him more compelling at the plate than he's been in some time. The 33-year-old third baseman boasts the best isolated power rate he's had since 2010, though it's come at the expense of striking out a third of the time, which is a drastic increase over previous levels. Second baseman Neil Walker seems to be following the same formula; his strikeout rate and slugging percentages are both career highs and he's already given the Mets 11 homers from a middle infield spot.

The Mets are at the forefront of the NL East race despite being a little bit banged up. Power-hitting first baseman Lucas Duda and strong offensive catcher Travis d'Arnaud are on the disabled list, and they're being replaced by Eric Campbell and Kevin Plawecki, respectively. Both guys were called upon to fill in for significant stretches during the first half of last season and were major reasons that the offense couldn't score. At the very least, Plawecki has good receiving skills; Campbell looks like nothing more than a Quad-A slugger whose bat can't hack it in the bigs, especially so as a first baseman.

Regardless of whether the more questionable members of the Mets offense step up and produce, they've got the arms to finish among the best teams in the National League. The NL East figures to be a two-horse race between New York and the similarly talented Nationals, but the loser of that race seems pretty likely to grab a Wild Card slot. With Syndergaard as a possible starter for a potential Wild Card game, you have to like the Mets' chances of being dangerous in the postseason either way.

Projected Record and Finish: 90-72, second place NL East

Probable Starting Pitchers

  • Monday, May 30: Jose Quintana vs. Matt Harvey
  • Tuesday, May 31: Mat Latos vs. Steven Matz
  • Wednesday, June 1: Miguel Gonzalez vs. Jacob DeGrom

Probable Lineup

Pitching

1. Curtis Granderson - RF

SP1. Noah Syndergaard - RHP

2. David Wright - 3B

SP2. Jacob DeGrom - RHP

3. Michael Conforto - LF

SP3. Matt Harvey - RHP

4. Yoenis Cespedes - CF

SP4. Steven Matz - LHP

5. Neil Walker - 2B

SP5. Bartolo Colon - RHP

6. Asdrubal Cabrera - SS

CL. Jeurys Familia - RHP

7. Eric Campbell - 1B

RP1. Addison Reed - RHP

8. Kevin Plawecki - C

RP2. Hasnel Robles - RHP

RP3. Jerry Blevins - LHP