The Mets front office is such an easy target these days it’s not even fun anymore. But for once, let us rejoice and take a moment to appreciate the talent along with the potential of the 2018 team.
It’s easy to point out what the Mets don’t have and still need for the team to be competitive in the NL East. But at this juncture, every team is on the lookout to fill holes in their roster, and with the possible exception of the Houston Astros, it’s proving to be a frustrating and challenging endeavor.
So here a few of the weapons the Mets do have as we get closer to Opening Day, all of which have the potential to take the team farther than the upcoming “predictions” will say. Today, we’ll focus exclusively on starting pitching.
As we know, the Mets are a team built around pitching. And this season will be no different from past ones in which the pitching if it falls apart as it did last season mainly due to injuries, the floodgates will open, and Mickey Callaway will be pumping Advil until the season’s bitter end arrives.
deGrom emphasizes he is not casting a shot at Terry Collins as much as to say last year’s team threw in the towel when the injuries began to mount up. It’s a shot over the bow things are expected to be different under Callaway. On winning the Cy Young Award this season, deGrom adds, “That’s the main goal,” he said. “You set the bar high and go after it. That’s what I’m striving for.”
From there, the starting pitchers individually are more complicated, and each has his challenges to overcome if the Mets are to be successful.
We’ll start with Noah Syndergaard who, whether he wants to admit it or not, is mainly responsible for the miserable season he had last year. Beginning with his self-prescribed offseason workout regimen that overdid his Thor image, and on to his ill-fated battle with the team declining an MRI, which may or may not have detected the possibility of injury, Syndergaard pretty much shot him himself in the foot before he even got started.
To their credit, the Mets have stepped in with Mickey Callaway leading the way so that Syndergaard is watched more closely this offseason. We know he has some of the nastiest stuff of any pitcher in the big leagues, but what we don’t see is when Syndergaard will finally corral that stuff, a la say Corey Kluber has, to emerge as a consistent starter capable of turning in a 17-9 season for the Mets.
In many respects, Matt Harvey is pitching this season for his baseball life. That can only be good news for the Mets who need Harvey to wake up and smell the roses of a big league career that has turned sour. With free agency on the horizon in November, Harvey’s agent, Scott Boras, try as he might, will be unable to market Harvey unless he can prove he can take regular turns in the rotation that amount to 170-180 innings pitched in 2018.
Harvey carries a lot of baggage with the Mets, and all of it has been chronicled publicly. He has a chance, though, to turn it all around with a new slate and a new manager this season.
If Harvey can regain his stature by mid-season, look for the Mets to see where they are in the standings and based on that possibly trade Harvey to a team in the hunt for a couple of high-level prospects, something, the Mets sorely need to reignite their farm system.
ESPN’s depth chart for the Mets pencils in Zack Wheeler and Seth Lugo as the fourth and fifth starters, but did they forget Steven Matz? Matz had season-ending surgery in late August. The procedure was designed to reposition a compressed nerve in the elbow, and he is expected to be ready for Opening Day.
With their new and more conservative approach to injuries, the Mets might ease Matz in during April with some work out of the bullpen before joining the rotation again in May. No one can understand why Matz has not progressed farther and faster with the stuff he has. Only 26, Matz just might be similar to Tom Glavine, Chuck Finley, Andy Pettitte, David Wells, Randy Johnson, and countless other left-handed starting pitchers who all needed around 60-to-100 starts before their career ERA began to dip and stayed below 4.00.
As for Wheeler, his checkered career with the Mets would seem to end here if he cannot harness his stuff by keeping the ball off the middle of the plate. Much like Harvey, Wheeler needs to prove he can stay on the mound from start to start, and sometimes even inning to inning before he can be of any value to the Mets.
As a group, the Mets still have a starting staff many other teams would die for. At the same time though, the questions outweigh answers for now. And that will remain so for at least the first eight weeks of the season, as all eyes will be focused mainly on Harvey and Syndergaard as a beacon for where the team is headed this year.
In sum, the Mets will rise or fall depending on their starting pitching. They are destined to win and lose more games by scores of 4-2 and 5-3 than they are by 8-6 and 7-5. Which brings us to the second installment of this series on the position players and the amount of production we can expect. Look for it in the next few days.