The Mets enter the 2018 regular season with projected wins ranging from 80 to 83 -- a disappointing set of expectations. But projections are always rough and it's normal to have a swing of plus or minus six-to-nine wins, which would give the Mets a shot at a playoff spot if things break right.
So what are the key breaks the Mets need to make it to the postseason?
A strong return by Michael Conforto
Early results from Conforto this spring have been extremely positive. His rehab has gone as well as anyone could have hoped and it is widely expected that he will meet, and possibly beat, his May 1 target for return. But a timely return is only half of his battle -- he also needs to hit.
Conforto was unquestionably the best hitter on the 2017 Mets. He smashed 27 home runs in just two-thirds of a season on his way to a .939 OPS. That kind of performance can completely transform a lineup and it's something the 2018 Mets badly need. He's off to a strong start, doing damage against the minor league pitchers unfortunate enough to have to face him in his rehab.
But there's a lot that's still unknown for him. To call his torn shoulder capsule "unusual" would be an understatement -- there is not a single high-profile position player comp for his exact injury. A young, elite athlete might emerge as strong as ever, or lingering weakness or scar tissue could affect his bat speed or mechanics. It will be impossible to truly know what Conforto will bring this year until he's back in the lineup every day. But if the Mets want to play October baseball, they need him at his best.
Solid production from the catcher position
The trio of Travis d'Arnaud, Kevin Plawecki, and Rene Rivera scraped together just half a win over replacement last season -- their worst showing at any position. They're projected to top that by at least one win in 2018, but they should be aiming even higher if they're thinking about the playoffs.
Early showings from the d'Arnaud-Plawecki tandem are positive -- both have carried over a strong September into Spring Training. And going into the season without a clear starter versus backup could be a valuable approach for the team. A lower workload for each could reduce injury risk and fatigue, especially for the vulnerable d'Arnaud. Mets manager Mickey Callaway also has the freedom to go with whoever seems to be the best matchup on a given day without concern of undermining the "number one" guy.
A strong showing from d'Arnaud and Plawecki, with adequate backup from Jose Lobaton and Tomas Nido in the minors, could give the Mets a bump of up to two wins from last season -- not a huge jump in and of itself, but just the kind of thing that makes the difference in a playoff race.
This seems so obvious that it's almost silly to include it, but there's no getting around the biggest bugaboo for the Mets. 12 pitchers made starts for the 2017 team and no organization in the game can dig that deep and still find talent. If they want to avoid another franchise-worst pitching season, they simply cannot run the likes of Adam Wilk and Tommy Milone out there every five days. The only way they can do that is if their top guys stay on the mound.
And healthy pitching will help the team above and beyond keeping bottom-of-the-barrel starters out of Citi Field. Steven Matz and Matt Harvey were among the worst starters in the game last year and both have spent long stretches of the past several years recovering, and sometimes pitching through, injuries. Neither may be ticketed for the stardom once imagined, but an average showing for each would mean dropping two runs apiece from their execrable 2017 ERAs.
The undoing of the 2017 Mets was never their modestly above-average hitting, it was the horrendous pitching -- with many starters either pitching through injuries or dealing with the after-effects of surgery. The 2015 or 2016 staffs would have carried last year's team to the playoffs. And if they can return to form, supported by a new training regime and a new crop of coaches, they can do it this year, too.
Maggie Wiggin (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Archive Posts) has been a Mets fan since birth and a MetsBlog contributor since 2013. She loves throwing hard and hitting hard and hates the DH. When baseball is out of season, she fills her days with data analysis and evaluation and patiently waits for Spring