A year ago, predicting that the Washington Nationals were going to be the class of the National League East wasn't merely a choice you could make. It was the only choice, the prevailing wisdom of every baseball expert and baseball fan. Fresh off a 96-win campaign in 2014, one publication prior to the start of the season called 2015 Washington's "162 game victory tour". The Mets finished a distant second in 2014 and nobody saw foresaw them hanging with the Nationals, let alone having the gall to actually beat them out.
Then, like so often in this world, life happened. 2015 didn't go as initially planned for the Nationals or the Mets. Our Mets somehow finished on top of the Nationals and by a stunning seven games, at that. A lot went right for the Mets, a lot went wrong for the Nationals, and just like that those preseason predictions were faded memories.
Well, Mets fans, the high-and-mighty predictors aren't believing in our club from Flushing once again. Or at least one predictor is, we should say. Check out the 2016 MLB standings projections released by USA Today Sports earlier today:
How we see the 2016 MLB season unfolding: https://t.co/czCLqtzB4I pic.twitter.com/UL8YC82mw1— USA TODAY Sports (@USATODAYsports) February 15, 2016
Let's take a look and see what it says inside, maybe they have good reason to place the Mets behind the Nationals and outside the National League playoff field...
Plenty of drama in D.C. this year, and we wonder what’s more likely: President Obama gets a Supreme Court nominee past a stonewalling Senate, or Stephen Strasburg wins a Cy Young Award before skipping town. We say it all comes together for Strasburg just in time for free agency, Anthony Rendon stays healthy, Dusty Baker keeps everyone sane and the Nationals (89 wins) fulfill their destiny a year later than imagined.
That's understandable, I guess. Maybe Dusty Baker, out of baseball since 2013, rubs some magic pixie dust on the Nationals' bullpen and they don't fold like a cheap card table this time around. Maybe Daniel Murphy owns a lucky four leaf clover and his defection from the Mets causes a huge swing that eliminates all of the offseason improvements the Mets have made, too!
Now let's see what they have to say about the Mets:
So where does that leave the Mets (87 wins)? Their pennant was no fluke, but suddenly their lineup is getting older (six regulars on the wrong side of 30) while their sublime starting pitching is still subject to youthful volatility. A 50% leap in innings for Noah Syndergaard is concerning. Steven Matz has never eclipsed 140 innings. At 43, Bartolo Colon will be a meme machine, but a sub-optimal fifth starter.
Is 30 years old the wrong side of 30? Because Yoenis Cespedes, Neil Walker, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Lucas Duda are all exactly 30 years old. Complain about David Wright and Curtis Granderson's age all you want but Granderson posted his best season since 2012. Wright, for all the questions about his spinal stenosis, still hit .289/.379/.434 in 2015 and that's above average output from third baseman.
Concerns about inning jumps are warranted because pitchers break, it's what they do. But should they bypass long term injury, the Mets are likely getting more innings from Syndergaard and Matz than they got in 2015, and they should be getting Zack Wheeler back. The Nationals are replacing Jordan Zimmermann with Joe Ross, who tossed 150 innings last season? With Tanner Roark, who was subpar in 2015? With Lucas Giolito, who's incredibly talented but threw just 117 innings last season? Sure!
Have at it, Mets fans.