What will it take for the New York Mets to win the National League East?
There are several factors that may play a role in determining just how successful the New York Mets can be in 2019. Some elements the Mets may be able to control, and others in which they’ll need a little bit of luck.
Perhaps the biggest factor that may lead the Mets to win the National League East title is their pitching. In order to silence the dangerous bats of the Washington Nationals, Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves, the Mets’ starting rotation will need to stay healthy and live up to expectations. It would be unfair to expect Jacob deGrom replicating his 2018 season, but getting him to pitch like his normal self is more than enough.
Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz need to stay healthy and consistent, as they showed for most of last season. Noah Syndergaard needs to return to the pitcher he was in 2015 and 2016, dominating opposing hitters. Jason Vargas must pitch more like he did over the last two months of the 2018 season.
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The newly revamped bullpen, led by players like Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia, Justin Wilson, Seth Lugo, and Robert Gsellman, must dominate hitters late in games. On paper, the Mets have arguably the best starting rotation and bullpen in their division. Good pitching usually beats good hitting, and if that rings true, the Mets may be able to silence the dangerous lineups in their division most of the time.
In addition to effective pitching from starters and relievers, the Mets need most of their valuable players to stay healthy. Over the last few seasons, the team has been very unlucky in this aspect, getting snakebit by injury after injury. While the team is now more prepared for such unfortunate luck with added depth, if the injuries pile up again, the product on the field may end up being much weaker when compared to those of their division rivals.
Even now, the team is dealing with multiple injuries to their infield, with Jed Lowrie and Todd Frazier attempting to rehab and be ready to return in time for Opening Day, if not soon after. This doesn’t present too much of a problem at the moment, as the team could just move Jeff McNeil to third base and play Juan Lagares in center field. However, things could get out of hand with one or two more injuries. Hopefully, that doesn’t happen this season.
While the Mets have plenty of depth from position players, the team is thin on starting pitching depth. If one of the starting pitchers were to get injured, Corey Oswalt would likely be the first go-to guy as a replacement. However, there aren’t many good options after him. Hector Santiago doesn’t look like a starting pitcher at this point in his career. Chris Flexen still hasn’t proved to be a capable pitcher at the major league level. While Lugo and Gsellman could be used to start games in case of multiple injuries to starters, the bullpen would be weakened without them.
One thing the Mets could do to remedy this concern is to sign one or two free agent starting pitchers. They could go big by signing Dallas Keuchel and moving Vargas to the bullpen until a starter gets hurt, or they could make a smaller move by signing Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, and/or Bartolo Colon.
Finally, the Mets will need a healthy Yoenis Cespedes to return in July or August, assuming the team is fighting for a playoff spot at that point. We saw in 2015 and 2016 that he has the ability to carry an offense to the playoffs.
At the moment, general manager Brodie Van Wagenen views Cespedes as the ultimate trade deadline move. He doesn’t necessarily have to play out of his mind like he did after being acquired by the Mets at the 2015 trade deadline, but he must be healthy and productive for the team to have a chance of taking the division title. Having his name sandwiched in the middle of the lineup between Robinson Cano and Michael Conforto completely changes it for the better.
The Phillies have bulked up their lineup with the additions of Bryce Harper, Jean Segura, and Andrew McCutchen to go along with Rhys Hoskins and Maikel Franco. The Braves are the defending division champs with young talented players like Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies to go with veterans like Freddie Freeman, Nick Markakis, and Josh Donaldson. The Nationals, despite losing Harper, still have many offensive weapons in youngsters Juan Soto and Victor Robles, as well as Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, and Adam Eaton.
However, the Mets rotation and bullpen may be talented enough to silence these great hitters, and the offense should be significantly better. If they can post winning records against these teams, that may be enough for them to clinch the National League Eastern Division title.
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Not much has gone right for the Mets over the last two seasons. Hopefully, 2019 will be the year they stop having so much bad luck. They have enough talent, but they’ll also need a little bit of luck by staying healthy.