Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
If you've followed the Mets over the past decade or so, you're familiar with an identity common to nearly every season: The team features a world-class rotation and a lineup that doesn't score enough to support it.
It's a pattern best personified by that famous game in 2015, when Eric Campbell and John Mayberry Jr. comprised the middle of the lineup while both batting around .170. But the roster has felt this way at least since the front office decided to build around arms like Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard.
Watching these Mets through spring training and the first nine games of the regular season, you sense an unexpected inversion of that formula. The deep lineup will score runs all year, and the team's chances at contending for a championship will hinge on whether it is able to pitch enough.
Credit Brodie Van Wagenen for spending his first offseason as a general manager assembling a deep and entertaining offense around several players that he inherited.
Scouts are nearly universal in their views that Jeff McNeil is a legit contact hitter, and is set up to succeed for years to come. Anyone with eyes can see that Pete Alonso is a special talent. We'll be surprised if Michael Conforto doesn't make the All-Star team this year.
Robinson Cano is batting .205 but is still his old self, as proven by his strong spring training. Wilson Ramos is a beast. Jed Lowrie, if he makes it back from his knee injury, will provide yet another significant upgrade. Even bit players like J.D. Davis are contributing power and big hits.
This group is too deep for the season's first week-plus to be a mirage. You'll continue to see high-scoring games, comebacks against soft bullpens, and more offense at Citi Field that you can process.
The biggest question is, how many runs will the Mets allow?
Assuming that deGrom will continue as the best pitcher in baseball, the pair of potential aces that follow him in the rotation form the most pivotal part of the roster. Simply put, if Syndergaard and Wheeler can realize their potential for a full season, the Mets will be one of the best teams in baseball.
Both have offered long and tantalizing hints that they can step into that role. Syndergaard took a no-hitter into the sixth inning during Thursday's loss in the home opener, but lamented afterward that he couldn't find his famed slider of a few years ago, as detailed in this revelatory column by John Harper.
Syndergaard has shown the talent to be an ace in this league; now, he just has to do it. He hasn't made 30 starts since 2016, the year that began with that slider that he can no longer find. To his credit, Syndergaard has been self-aware and open about his need to limit pitch counts, put hitters away and take the next step.
Wheeler's struggle to find the strike zone on Sunday came as a bit of a surprise, after he appeared to have found a groove in a second half of 2018 that was arguably better than deGrom's.
Everyone has bad days, but many more of these and the vibe around Wheeler will change again. Perhaps we were a tad premature in trusting his transformation and calling on the Mets to offer him a contract extension.
The bullpen, too, needs refining, and it needs Jeurys Familia to be a lockdown setup man for Edwin Diaz. An effective Familia/Diaz combo will help shorten games and patch over the pen's soft underbelly. A shaky Familia will make the entire relief corps look thin.
The front office knows that it's worth at least considering bolstering the pitching staff. That's why they've remained in contact with free agents Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel. There's more buzz connecting the Mets to the former, but the sides haven't yet been able to agree on Keuchel's value.
At this stage of his career, Keuchel is probably closer to a back-of-the-rotation piece than an ace. He'd be a nice add, but health and consistency from Syndergaard and Wheeler would be even more helpful.
The Mets will score runs. Hey, they scored nine in Sunday's loss to Washington. Problem was, the pitchers allowed 12.