Baseball is back! We think. Each day, SportsIntel’s Matt DeSaro will take a look at two of the 30 teams in Major League Baseball as we head toward MLB Opening Day in late July and we continue today in the NL East with the New York Mets.

The owners and players agreed in late June to stage a 60-game season, beginning July 24. There are still many hurdles to overcome in this COVID-19 landscape, but for now, the teams are gathering for “Summer Camp,” a Spring Training reboot crammed into three weeks.

MLB Opening Day – New York Mets

NY Mets | O/U 31.5 Wins | +2000 to win World Series

The Mets have bettered their season win totals in each of the past three seasons, winning 70 in 2017, 77 in 2018 and 86 games last season.  While they still failed to make the playoffs for the third straight year, there is a lot of hope in Flushing this off-season after a third-place finish in the National League East MLB standings.

It is easy to see why Mets fans are hopeful ahead of the opening day of MLB 2020, as not a whole lot has changed since last year, and the moves that have occurred are a net positive. Perhaps the biggest loss was not that of a player, but of their new Manager.  Many long time Mets fans were ecstatic with the news that former superstar, Carlos Beltran, was signed to a 3-year contract to manage this team.  Seems the baseball gods had other ideas, however, as Beltran voluntarily stepped down before spring training after his involvement with the Astros cheating scandal came to light. It became one of the very rare occasions where a manager was forced out before coaching a single game.  Luis Rojas, who previously managed the Leones del Escogido of the Dominican League to a championship in 2016, was given the nod to take the wheel.

While the 2020 Amazin’s have massive upside and are a legit dark horse pick to win it all, they do face a number of challenges in their hunt for just their third postseason appearance in the last decade.

Offseason Acquisitions: OF Jake Marisnick, RHP Brad Brach, RHP Michael Wacha, RHP Rick Porcello, RHP Dellin Betances.

Offseason Losses: C Rene Rivera, 2B Joe Panik, 2B Sam Haggerty, 3B Todd Frazier, OF Juan Lagares, RHP Zack Wheeler, RHP Drew Gagnon, RHP Chris Flexen, LHP Blake Taylor.

What do the Mets do Well?

Despite their lack of success in making the playoffs in the last three years, the Mets have a very well-rounded team chock full of talent across the board.

Their 86 wins in 2019 were due in large part to a strong season at the plate for much of the team.  New York ended the season 11th in home runs (242), 12th in RBIs (767) and 13th in runs scored (791).   Peter Alonso led the charge, hitting .260 with 120 RBIs and a whopping 53 HRs, setting a new MLB record for rookies.  New York will also enjoy having Yoenis Cespedes back who, after injuring his ankle in late May 2019, missed the entire 162-game season.  It’s worth noting that not only was Cespedes already on the IL, but that he broke his ankle while involved in a violent encounter with a wild boar at his Port St. Lucie ranch.  Can’t make this stuff up.  The Mets did luck out in the financial department at least after Cespedes agreed to a massive pay cut due to the fact that he just can’t stay healthy.  But all joking aside, if Cespedes had even played just the 2nd half of last year, the Mets could have made a legit run at a Wild Card berth.

As we countdown to the MLB season opening day, the Mets not only enjoy a talented batting order but also boast one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball.  Their most potent weapon, Jacob deGrom, is pitching like an all-time great at just 31 years of age.  He has won back to back Cy Young Awards, one of only 11 players to do so with all the other eligible players HOF inductees aside from Roger Clemens.  Noah Syndergaard is up next in the rotation, and despite struggling a bit in 2019, can be a perennial All-Star in this league if he can shrug off his rocky season.  Rounding out the rotation are strong contributors Marcus Stroman (2017 WBC MVP), Rick Porcello (2016 Cy Young Award) and Michael Wacha (2013 NLCS MVP).

Their bullpen also saw significant upgrades after signing Dellin Betances and Brad Branch to bolster an already talented group.  If Syndergaard and Edwin Diaz can rebound from shaky seasons, this could be the pitching staff to beat in 2020.

Where Can They Improve?

The Mets are in a very positive situation as we approach opening day, as they really don’t need much to make a run at the postseason.  What held them back last season was a number of key players having extended rough patches of play, specifically on the mound.

While the Mets managed to rank 11th in ERA (4.24), they are a team that should be vying for the top spot in the majors. On paper, they have a murderers row between their rotation and bullpen.  But they have to execute.  The most glaring example of this would have to be Edwin Diaz.  He blew seven of 33 save opportunities and saw his ERA balloon from 1.96 in 2018 to 5.59 last year.  Syndergaard didn’t help matters with his 10-8 record and 4.30 ERA over 31 starts.  Not terrible numbers by most standards, but Thor is capable of much much more.

The need Diaz to become the sure thing he was when the Mets signed him and would prefer to have Betances handle 8th inning duties to cut games short for opposing teams. It will be interesting to see how Diaz rebounds from such a down season and if, and at just 25 years of age, he can make adjustments and return to dominance.

Another possible issue with the team has the be that of age and injuries at a couple of key positions.  While Cespedes is currently healthy, that still doesn’t inspire much hope that he stays that way.  Since the beginning of the 2017 season, Cespedes has played in just 119 of a possible 486 games.  He has never played a full 162 game season and, at 34 years old, is unlikely to become more durable at this stage of his career. Another key position player who is aging out of his usefulness is 2B Robinson Cano.  He has totaled just 23 long balls and 89 RBIs in his last 700 at-bats and is a bit long in the tooth at 37 to be playing second base on a regular basis.

The only other glaring issue for the Mets ahead of the opening day is their lack of any true centerfielder.  Their outfield depth chart is made up of two natural corner players in Conforto and Nummo, natural infielders Davis and McNeil, along with Yoenis “Mr. Glass” Cespedes.  As of now, it appears that Nimmo will be the square peg forced into a round hole until a better option is found.

Season Prediction

I don’t see a world where both Syndergaard and Diaz have back to back down seasons and, for some reason, feel good about Cespedes playing 135+ games this year.  Look at it this way, if Edwin Diaz pitched the way he did in 2018, the Mets would have won 90 games and been in the thick of the Wild Card hunt.

Now consider that Syndergaard also pitched like his 2018 self (13-4, 3.03 ERA) and who knows how close the Mets would have been to pressuring Atlanta for the top spot in the division.  Both of those things could easily happen in 2020.  If all the other pieces fall into place after the opening day, we could see the Mets make some noise in the playoffs and even a title run.  I feel good about them to eclipse the 32-win mark and keep the Braves and Nationals on their toes as the season winds down.

Projected Starters:

C – Wilson Ramos

1B – Pete Alonso

2B – Robinson Cano

3B – Jeff McNeil

SS – Amed Rosario

LF – Yoenis Cespedes

CF – Brandon Nimmo

RF – Michael Conforto

Projected Rotation:

Jacob deGrom

Noah Syndergaard

Marcus Stroman

Rick Porcello

Michael Wacha

Closer:

Edwin Diaz