New York Mets at the All-Star Break: Revisiting Preseason Predictions

New York Mets at the All-Star Break: Revisiting Preseason Predictions

Mets

New York Mets at the All-Star Break: Revisiting Preseason Predictions

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The All-Star Game has come and gone with the New York Mets in first place in the National League East. It is certainly a position many of their fans hoped they would be in at the start of the season but the path the Mets took to get there is certainly unorthodox. Since we have a few more days until the Mets return to the field let’s look back at some preseason predictions for them and see how they have gone thus far.

1. How will Francisco Lindor impact the Mets?

What we said then: 

Contract negotiations notwithstanding, the biggest story surrounding the Mets is the addition of Lindor, one of the top five players in the sport. Lindor tore the cover off the ball in spring training, hitting .370 with four home runs and 14 RBI’s, and made jaw-dropping plays in the field to boot.

The adjustment period to New York isn’t easy for most athletes but Lindor looks like the kind of player who can thrive under the bright lights of the city that never sleeps. If Lindor can become a dynamic star from the minute the bell rings it will mean a lot for the Mets.

What actually happened:

Lindor struggled mightily to start his Mets’ career, hitting just .182 on May 27 as he had a tough time making the transition to the spotlight of the big city. Things have improved since then for Lindor, who finished the first half hitting .227 with 11 home runs and 36 RBI’s, raising his batting average 45 points while playing Gold Glove-caliber defense.

The improvement is nice but the Mets need more out of Lindor in order to reach their goals of World Series contention. Lindor did look more comfortable at the plate in the last week and the Mets have to hope it carries over to the second half.

2. Is Pete Alonso Back?

What we said then:

Most fans will argue that Alonso experienced a sophomore slump in 2020 but it’s important to remember that he only got to play the equivalent of two months in the midst of a pandemic. Alonso still slugged very well, hitting 16 homers in 2020, but his overall batting approach was a bit off.

Spring training was very encouraging for Alonso, who looked much more confident at the plate than he ever did last season. Seeing a bounceback campaign from Alonso significantly raises the ceiling of the Mets’ offense.

What actually happened: 

Alonso hasn’t been an otherworldly god like he was in 2019 but he has been a solid presence in the middle of the Mets’ batting order, hitting .250 with 17 home runs and 49 RBI’s in the first half. Those counting stats could be even higher if Alonso hadn’t been plagued by a hand injury for a few weeks in May that required a trip to the injured list to resolve.

The Mets have had their issues with left-handed pitching of late so they could use more impact moments from Alonso, who is one of the team’s few right-handed power threats.

3. How much has the defense improved?

What we said then:

The Mets have undervalued defense for a while now but this team is significantly improved in the field. Lindor’s addition is a massive upgrade over Amed Rosario at shortstop while getting James McCann behind the plate and Jeff McNeil’s return to his natural position of second base should help bolster the Mets up the middle.

There are still significant questions at third base, where J.D. Davis is more of a hit-first player, and the outfield, where Dominic Smith is out in left and Brandon Nimmo is still in center. Expect to see plenty of late-inning defensive substitutions to help the Mets close out games.

What actually happened:

The Mets have fared dramatically better on defense. Lindor’s arrival has certainly helped but the Mets have done much better thanks to their extensive use of shifting, which has allowed them to position their fielders in better positions to make plays. Nimmo has also made tremendous strides in center while playing deeper and Smith has gotten to the point where he is a solid defender in left field that doesn’t force Rojas to double-switch him out of games.

4. When will the injured pitchers come back?

What we said then:

The pitching staff is significantly improved for the Mets but they are missing three key players in Carlos Carrasco, Noah Syndergaard and Seth Lugo. All three should be out for at least the first month of the season with a return towards the end of May a best-case scenario for most of them.

Getting Carrasco and Syndergaard in the rotation will help but Lugo’s return might actually be the most important since the bullpen is weaker than the rotation. If the Mets can get everyone back by June they could really take off.

What actually happened:

Lugo came back pretty much right on target and has been a huge help for the Mets’ bullpen. Both Carrasco and Syndergaard experienced setbacks with Carrasco suffering a severe hamstring tear while Syndergaard had elbow soreness that required a six-week shutdown. Carrasco is closer to a return now and could be with the Mets by the end of the month while Syndergaard is aiming to be ready around September 1.

5. Is Edwin Diaz really back?

What we said then: 

Things looked bad for Diaz at the start of 2020 when he quickly lost his job as the Mets’ closer. Diaz got the gig back by the end of the year and was strong in September, finishing as our Met of the Month by recording a 0.77 ERA in 11 appearances.

With Jeurys Familia and Dellin Betances struggling in the spring, there are few alternatives available if Diaz falters to start the year. Getting a strong season out of Diaz is key to the Mets’ playoff aspirations.

What actually happened:

Sunday’s game aside, Diaz has been pretty much a lockdown closer for the Mets, recording 19 saves in 21 chances and pitching to a 3.25 ERA. Diaz has struggled mightily when it isn’t a save situation, however, which is something the Mets need to figure out in order to effectively utilize him down the stretch.

6. Will Luis Rojas improve in his second year?

What we said then:

Rojas had quite the start to his big-league managerial career, taking over in late January after the Mets parted ways with Carlos Beltran and having to run two spring training periods thanks to the pandemic. Alderson opted to retain Rojas for a second year but the pressure will be on his shoulders thanks to Cohen’s mandate that the organization will win a title within 3-5 years.

That goal will require significant improvement from Rojas, who earned the respect of his players but had a few tactical mistakes in his first year at the helm. If Rojas can’t build on what he learned from 2020 then his job could be in jeopardy by the middle of the season.

What actually happened:

Rojas has done a tremendous job weathering adversity with this team and keeping his players focused on the task at hand, a big reason why he is in the mix for the National League’s Manager of the Year award. There are still some issues with bullpen management, however, which make games like Sunday’s very frustrating. It is tough to tell, however, how many of these calls are truly Rojas’ as opposed to scripts from the analytics team that he is following.

7. How will the Mets navigate COVID-19?

What we said then:

The landscape in the country is far better than it was at this point a year ago in terms of the coronavirus but Major League Baseball isn’t out of the woods just yet. Vaccines should be widely available in the coming weeks, which could lead to many players getting vaccinated and reducing their chances of contracting the virus, but the first month or two of the season could still throw a COVID-related landmine into a team’s season.

The Mets were relatively lucky that they only had one player, backup catcher Tomas Nido, test positive for the virus during the 2020 season. COVID ended up sidelining Nido for the remainder of the shortened season and a lengthy absence from a key player due to the disease would significantly impact the team’s fortunes.

What actually happened:

The Mets haven’t had a single major-league player contract the virus this season and it has allowed their schedule to proceed without COVID interruptions outside of their opening series with the Washington Nationals, which was postponed due to an active outbreak in Washington’s clubhouse.

The vaccines did become available but the Mets are one of just seven teams that haven’t hit the 85 percent threshold of vaccinations in order to achieve looser health and safety protocols more reminiscent of the 2019 rules. This is something to monitor as the country deals with the more infections Delta variant which could lead to some virus issues like the ones that the Philadelphia Phillies experienced on Sunday when they had four players placed on the COVID IL.

8. How aggressive will the Mets be at the trade deadline?

What we said then:

The luxury tax has been a consideration for the Mets this season, who opted not to exceed the threshold by splurging on free agents. That decision should leave the Mets some flexibility to add a significant piece or two at the trade deadline if the front office feels it can put them over the top in 2021.

Kris Bryant would be a logical target for the Mets as a rental who can contribute at both third base and in the outfield. Lorenzo Cain would also be an intriguing fit if the Brewers fall out of contention while another bullpen arm would certainly be a good thing to add.

What actually happened:

This one should be answered in the coming weeks but the Mets figure to be very aggressive. Third base is still an area of need as both Bryant and Josh Donaldson have been linked to the Mets in recent weeks. Another starting pitcher would be a good move since the Mets are filling the back of their rotation with patchwork options and a bullpen arm would also be beneficial.

9. Who will be the Mets’ X-Factor this season?

What we said then:

The Mets’ X-factor will be Marcus Stroman, who has been the forgotten man in the rotation for the most part. Stroman accepted the qualifying offer to return this winter and had a strong spring to earn the No. 2 spot behind Jacob deGrom to start the season.

While the eventual returns of Carrasco and Syndergaard should strengthen the Mets’ rotation, they still need to get quality starts from the rest of the group until that point. Stroman is the most capable pitcher on the staff outside of deGrom and needs to deliver a big performance in his walk year to keep the Mets on track for a playoff appearance.

What actually happened:

Stroman has done his part as the Mets’ No. 2 starter, going 6-7 with a 2.75 ERA, but the bigger X-factor has been Taijuan Walker. A fallback move from the Mets after they missed out on Trevor Bauer, Walker earned a trip to the All-Star Game by going 7-3 with a 2.50 ERA in the first half. The contributions of Walker and Stroman have helped the Mets stay in first place despite a so-so offensive performance.

10. Will the Mets make the playoffs?

What we said then:

The Mets haven’t made the playoffs since 2016, a drought that feels extreme since they managed to miss the postseason in a 2020 campaign where over half the league got to play in October. The good news is that the Mets’ roster has been significantly upgraded to compete in baseball’s toughest division.

The Mets are better than the Phillies, Nationals and Marlins right now while the Braves are a bit better at the moment. The bet here is that the Mets hang tight with Atlanta until they get healthy and a key trade is enough to help push New York into the NL East crown with 95 wins.

What actually happened:

The Mets have managed to put themselves in a very good position to make the postseason, finishing the first half in first place in the National League East with a solid 3.5 game lead over the Phillies. FanGraphs gives the Mets a 77.5 percent chance to make the postseason right now, a number they can improve upon with the right acquisitions, continued health, and better offensive performance.

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