Finally, real baseball is back. In my 13 years writing MetsBlog, I don't recall entering a season where Mets fans were as excited about the season, and contented with the roster. It's a wonderful feeling. However, nothing lasts forever. Already, people have been starting to panic, especially considering how poorly the team played in Spring Training.
Of course, March is meaningless. Tonight the actual curtain opens. The 2016 show begins and I still believe the Mets have the potential and drive to get back to the World Series. The team and its fans all understand we have unfinished business to take care of and no team knows what that's like better than the Kansas City Royals, who lost the 2014 World Series before defeating the Mets 12 months later to win it. It just so happens, as the Mets try to replicate their path, they get to watch the Royals hoist their Championship banner and get their rings tonight at 8 pm on Opening Day. It's a painful, beautiful reminder of what is possible.
I believe we'll use tonight's pre-game wisely and let it be a spark for a bright 2016.
But, first, let me start with why I'm worried...
Why the Mets won't win
1) Pick it, Wilson: The starting rotation is awesome, but that can't strike out everyone. At some point, the ball will be put in play. And, this is where things get interesting for the Mets, because they do not set up to be a very good team in the field. I actually think they're slightly better than last season, but that's not really saying a lot, because they were really weak last season.
I mean, they rarely throw guys out when trying to steal, their third baseman is nursing a bad back, their middle infield has limited range, Curtis Granderson is a year older, Lucas Duda seems to have his error from Game 5 of the World Series lodged in his brain and their Gold Glove center fielder is on the bench so Yoenis Cespedes can be in the lineup. Again, the rotation is amazing, but even 98 mph fastballs get hit from time to time...
2) The back of the bullpen: Jeurys Familia is terrific, but the men pitching between him and the rotation may or may not be as effective. Addison Reed consistently struggled with runners on base last season. Antonio Bastardo was a nice pick up, but he looked terrible in Spring Training. And, speaking of Familia, how will last year's World Series impact him mentally? Is he going to shake it off and elevate his game? Or, will it continue to plague and hold him down?
3) DC: The Nationals are a good team. They were a mess last season, mostly because of injuries, in-fighting and pressure to perform. I can't believe they'll struggle from the same issues in 2016. Dusty Baker is now their leader. And, any team with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper is going to be around all season.
That said, I'm far more positive. I expect first place and around 88-92 wins, and here's why...
Why the Mets WILL win
1) The best rotation in baseball: It's simple, the Mets win at least 90 games, take the division and do well in October if the starting rotation lives up to its potential. Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard all have the talent to win a Cy Young Award. Steven Matz has yet to lose a game in the regular season and he looked outstanding in Spring Training. At 43 years old, Bartolo Colon is a magician. And, if that isn't good enough, they get a super talented, motivated and determined Zack Wheeler back from Tommy John surgery during July. Their rotation can be dominant, deep and dangerous. Most important, they're now experienced, having pitched big games in the biggest moments against the best baseball players in the world. In other words, the name of the game in 2016 will be less about offense, as it was in 2015, and all about keeping the other team from scoring.
2) A more balanced, consistent offense: Last year's offense was much better than people gave them credit for, and it projects to be even be even more productive this season. They're more balanced, versatile and powerful. I don't anticipate a point when they're the worst scoring team in baseball, as they were at times last season. Instead, I expect a group of hitters that keep themselves consistently in the top 10 in scoring.
3) Yo baby, Yo baby, Yo: He was a bit silly and entertaining early in Spring Training. However, Cespedes is also a talented and serious baseball player who is passionate about his teammates and winning and seemingly loving New York. There is no way he replicates what he did in a Mets uniform last season over the course of a full 162 games. It's not possible, but that's OK. He still projects to hit around 30 home runs, while batting .270 with a .300 OBP.
The Mets haven't had this type of presence in the middle of their order since Carlos Delgado, and Cespedes will help make everyone around him better - even if just posing a mental threat to opposing pitchers. Lastly, as Maggie Wiggin said last month, "The Mets are simply a different team with him than without. And, though there is no guarantee he'll be on the Mets next year, he's going to put on a show worth watching through at least the next seven months."
4) We are family: Familia blew three saves in the World Series. However, he appears capable of shaking it off and quickly returning to attack mode. I love that Sandy Alderson brought in his friend and mentor, Bastardo - not just because he helps physically strengthen the bullpen, but - because I think he'll mentally and emotionally help Familia, who is still just 26 years old. Remember, Familia was unhittable and didn't blow a save through August and September as his team played huge games and charged back to win the NL East last year. And, similar to his rotation, in addition to an incredible arm, nasty off-speed pitches and a strong mind, he has the experience of playing postseason baseball, all of which should make him stronger in 2016.