Significant improvements elsewhere in the NL East have thrown a wrench into the Mets’ plans to lead their own much-improved crew into the postseason. But while they remain a team with some noticeable flaws, they have the talent to take down the Phillies and the Nationals if a few key things break right for them.
A Healthy Rotation
This is a non-negotiable piece of the Mets potential success this season. Their top four is one of the better cores in the game, but everything beyond that is questionable at best and possibly disastrous.
Moreover, keeping their big arms on the mound will be no easy feat. Jacob deGrom has emerged as a true Iron Man in recent years, but he’s just two years removed from elbow surgery and the state of those behind him is much less rosy. Noah Syndergaard has spent time on the disabled list each of the last two years and Zack Wheeler’s injury history could fill a tome. Steven Matz is fresh off the first healthy year of his career, but he too carries a lot of risk.
There’s definitely a scenario in which the Mets can cope with an injury long enough to swing a trade at the deadline, but it’s a slim shot. And multiple injuries could truly doom them. But if they can keep their best arms out there and producing at the level they are all capable of, that’s undoubtedly a playoff-caliber rotation.
It’s hard to overstate how bad the Mets were in the field last year. They ranked near the bottom of the league in every advanced metric, and the eye test didn’t do them any favors either. Arguably, the only National League team that was worse was the Phillies, but the Phillies’ fantastic offseason has done almost as much to boost their fielding as it did to strengthen their lineup.
With the exception of Robinson Cano, the new additions to the Mets are unlikely to offer significant improvement over their predecessors. Pete Alonso’s defensive woes are well-documented and Wilson Ramos hasn’t had an above average season behind the plate since 2015.
But the room for improvement is definitely there. Amed Rosario had an uncharacteristically poor season in the field and it’s not hard to imagine a big improvement just on luck and comfort alone. And much of the depth Brodie Van Wagenen has worked to develop means that there are much better gloves available on the bench than in recent years. Adeiny Hechavarria can run circles around Jose Reyes and the Juan Larages/Keon Broxton tandem to back up center field is miles ahead of what Austin Jackson brought to the table.
An Emergent Star
Without having added a game-changing bat like Harper or Machado, they need to find that new lineup pop somewhere in-house.
The most obvious candidate for this is Alonso. He’s done nothing but hit his entire professional career, and racked up a minor league-leading 36 home runs in 2018. All of the pieces are there for Alonso, and if he makes a relatively easy transition to the majors (not a guarantee for even the best hitters), his bat could be transformative.
A less obvious but equally plausible candidate is Rosario. His two seasons in Queens have left much to be desired and while he’s not the classic middle-of-the-order home run machine that Alonso hopes to be, he has the tools to be a dynamic, high average hitter with line-drive power and exceptional base-running. It’s not a stretch to imagine him scoring 100 runs this season and if he does, the Mets are in business.
It’s not an easy road for the Mets, but it’s also not an unthinkable one. With projections largely seeing the Mets as a third place team with win totals in the mid to upper 80s, a modest overperformance on their part and a modest underperformance elsewhere could put them in business. But it all starts and ends with these three pieces, otherwise it’s going to be another quiet October.