Monday, April 6, 2015

Wild Boys

And so another Opening Day is upon us. For the first time in several years, it actually seems like a day that can be greeted with some healthy optimism for Mets fans for a variety of reasons. Still, it doesn't seem like there's many real believers in the potential of the team, even within its own fan base. It's easy to see how so many years of losing and the general inactivity of the front office to pad the young stars on the roster with some established names can temper the good feelings, and some injuries have of course cropped up as well, but I'm of the feeling that the Mets have the pieces in place to take a leap forward this year. I personally have been chomping at the bit for Opening Day to finally come around, and I've made no secret that I'm a believer in the team concept and the composition of the team.

This is a young team, that's rather obvious, and a team that started to show signs of life during the second half of the year. Now, those players need to build on their success and equate it to more wins on the ledger. Possible? Sure, anything's possible. Still, there's a lot that needs to go right. I think a lot will go right for the Mets for once, and here's some reasons why:

1) Matt Harvey's Return
I mean, if you watched the E:60 documentary on Harvey, you're probably fired up already. But that's just the backstory. If you've paid attention to his performance in Spring Training, that's all the evidence you need that he's ready to go. In 22 innings, Harvey gave up 17 hits, struck out 22 and walked 1. Harvey pitched in Florida like he never missed a beat. Though his Elbow surgery was a buzzkill, it was also well timed and his rehab, though it may not have happened the way he would have preferred it to, was handled with patience and temperance, and so the end result is that now, 18 months after the operation, Harvey looks like he's all the way back. I know he's yet to throw a full season in the Majors and his hype might outdistance his resume, but this is a guy who set all of Baseball on its ear in 2013. The comeback is still a work in progress and certainly he'll have his hiccups, but he's pitching like he means it and having him around really changes the culture in the clubhouse. This benefits the Mets on multiple levels.

2) Good as Gold
Juan Lagares has been drawing a hefty amount of hype lately and earned himself a 4-year contract extension off of a year in which he was injured a lot and performed marginally well offensively...while at the same time being mind-bogglingly good in Center Field. The perfect guy to patrol Citi Field's spacious Outfield and take pressure off lesser corner defenders, Lagares won the first of what ought to be several Gold Gloves. The key for Lagares' season now doesn't hinge on his defense, because that's the kind of thing that you can wake up and do when you're as solid as he is. It hinges on his ability to stay healthy over the course of the season, and his ability to work forward on offense. These two are linked, as far as I'm concerned, because Lagares' first trip to the DL came after he'd gotten off to a really fast start with the bat and was hitting somewhere in the area of .320 at the end of April. If he can get off to a hot start again, sustain it and stay healthy, he goes from being a great glove/no stick guy to the sort of unsung hero-type that always pops up on a Championship team.

3) May Flores
I said several months ago that I'm all in on Wilmer Flores at SS and I'm still all in on Flores. I know the defense has been suspect, but given experience and rhythm it can improve. Flores plays a fundamentally sound style of baseball reminiscent of his countryman and idol, our beloved Edgardo Alfonzo. Fonzie, like Flores, was always recognized as a guy who could hit but never stuck at a position because he played so many of them and played them well. Flores lacks that sort of defensive polish, but if we can get used to spastic Daniel Murphy at 2nd Base, I'm sure we can warm to Flores at SS. Plus, let's not belabor the facts. Kid can hit, and he proved it in spades down the stretch last year. If your Shortstop has the potential to pop 20 or so Home Runs, you can live with some defensive hiccups.

4) Keep It Going
Lucas Duda, Travis d'Arnaud, Jenrry Mejia and Jeurys Familia had particularly strong performances in the second half of the season last year. Duda was the breakout performer for the Mets last year, particularly after so many years of looking destined to be a useless oaf. d'Arnaud parlayed a slow start into a trip to AAA, then came back and finally found his sea legs. Mejia and Familia both struggled with injuries and inconsistency early in their careers, but they both settled into their roles as setup man and closer and flourished, giving the Mets bullpen the kind of teeth it hasn't had in years. A similar performance to 2014 or a slight tick upward by all four of these guys is certainly possible.

5) Back to Being Me
David Wright and Curtis Granderson had their moments but for the most part were lousy in 2014. So were Jon Niese (in spite of his numbers ending up halfway decent) and Dillon Gee. A return to form for the hitters is one of those things that really needs to go right in order for the Mets to make the leap. Niese just needs to get back to being consistent and stop moping around like John Maine. Gee is an interesting case because he wasn't supposed to be in the rotation, but Wheeler's injury landed him there. Still, the Mets don't seem exactly enamored of Gee and have him on a short leash. Should he be sent out of town, we're likely to see...

6) Terry's Babies
At some point this season, we're likely to see Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz hit the show. Rafael Montero could slot into the rotation as well, but for now he's on bullpen duty in the early going. These are names we've heard plenty about and they certainly seem ready to contribute. Other youngsters we could see in impactful roles this season include Dilson Herrera, who impressed in a cup of coffee last year, and relievers in the Dario Alvarez/Jack Leathersich mold.

7) Keep Doing What You're Doing
Jacob deGrom, Bartolo Colon, Daniel Murphy, John Mayberry Jr, Michael Cuddyer. deGrom needs no particular kick in the ass; he seems primed to pick up right where he left the defending NL Rookie of the Year. Colon will keep chugging along, eating innings and sandwiches. Murphy will be Murphy, hit, make some astoundingly stupid plays on occasion, and hit some more. Cuddyer and Mayberry are new here but they both had good Springs so just go with it.

Basically, the Mets are flying under the radar right now. Nobody really seems to believe they've got the firepower to seriously contend, and on paper that looks the case. I'm of the belief that the Mets are finally in a position where they have the kind of players that can make things go right. Yes, it starts with Harvey, and he's going to be the big story this season, but there's plenty of support around him. It may not seem evident at first, but at some point this season, the Mets are going to prove that they're ready to become contenders.

I know it's hard to hear this song and not picture a montage of Lenny Dykstra and Wally Backman busting their asses around Shea Stadium, but it seems well applicable to the 2015 Mets. They're going to make for a wild Summer at Citi Field. Believe it!

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