The National League East division belonged first to the Atlanta Braves, who from the years of 1995-2005 managed to take the division every season. After the New York Mets won the title in 2006, the Philadelphia Phillies won five straight division banners from the years of 2007-2011. Since then, the Washington Nationals, Braves, Nationals and Mets have all won the division, respectively. The problem of winning consecutive division titles is something that has plagued the Mets, who have yet to do so in their 54 year history.
The Mets enter the 2016 baseball season with very high spirits after an extremely impressive, and perhaps unexpected, run through the postseason. It started with the team outlasting the highly favorited Nats to win the NL East. The Mets then defeated the Dodgers in a very contested five game National League Division Series before sweeping the Chicago Cubs to get to their fifth World Series in franchise history. Even though they were outplayed by the Royals, the Mets have every reason to be proud of what they accomplished. But with that, comes higher expectations that need to be met this season. Otherwise, 2016 will become a disappointment.
The Mets strength comes from its starting pitching, which is superior to any starting staff in the game in terms of talent and depth. Matt Harvey (13 wins, 8 losses, 2.71 earned run average, 188 strikeouts, just over 189 innings pitched) had as good of a season ever for any pitcher returning from Tommy John surgery. Jacob deGrom (14-8, 2.54, 205, 191) backed up his unexpected 2014 National League Rookie of the Year season with an All Star campaign. Rookie Noah Syndergaard (9-7, 3.24, 166, 150) blossomed towards the end of last season and is considered, at this point, to be as good, if not better than the first two in terms of ceiling. Fellow rookie Steven Matz (4-0, 2.27, 34, just under 36, 6 starts) gained some experience starting three postseason games, including game four of the World Series. Right handed pitcher Zack Wheeler (11-11, 3.54, 187, just over 185) seemed to be on his way until he was shut down for Tommy John in spring training of last year. The Mets hope he will return to the fold in June or July of this season.
The Mets added infielder Neil Walker (.269 batting average, 16 home runs, 71 runs batted in, .756 on base plus slugging) in a trade for left hand pitcher Jonathon Niese (9-10, 4.13, 29 starts, just less than 177 IP) before signing shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera (.265, 15, 58, .744), formerly of the Tampa Bay Rays, to a two year contract. The Mets then signed free agent outfielder Alejandro DeAza (.262, 7, 35, .755) and left handed pitcher Antonio Bastardo (4-1, 2.98, 64, just over 57) to bolster their bench and bullpen, respectively. However, the Mets biggest off season move was the decision to bring back star outfielder Yoenis Cespedes (.291, 35, 105, .870) after the Cuban born free agent was unable to secure the deal him and his agency were looking for. Cespedes was a major reason the Mets played their best baseball in August and the beginning of September of last season, one in which the Mets ran away from the Nationals to take a commanding lead in the NL East.
Two of the keys to the Mets offense will be catcher Travis d'Arnaud (.268, 12, 41, .865) and left fielder Michael Conforto (.270, 9, 26, .841). d'Arnaud needs to prove he can stay healthy for a full season as he seemed on the brink of coming together as an offensive force before a couple of injuries sidelined him for an extended period of time. Conforto, just a season removed from his senior season of college at Oregon State, came up last season and seems to have the talent to be a three hitter in the Mets lineup for years to come. Outfielder Curtis Granderson (.259, 26, 70, .821) was the most productive hitter in the Mets lineup last season and was also the most consistent. Curtis really had an outstanding season, taking over the lead off spot in an opening day decision made by manager Terry Collins, one in which neither ever looked back on. First baseman Lucas Duda (.244, 27, 73, .838) is probably the most streaky player in baseball, which will probably force Collins to bat him in accordance to how much he is helping the team offensively.
Third baseman David Wright is looking to return from a scary diagnosis of spinal stenosis. Wright returned to the team in August, after missing all but the first eight games of the season, and hit .289, 5, 17, .814 for the season. Wright will not be playing every day, which makes the presence of infielder Wilmer Flores (.263, 16, 59, .703) very important. Flores will spell Wright, as well as Cabrera at shortstop and Walker at second base. The lineup I would go with is Granderson RF, Walker 2B, Cespedes CF, Duda 1B, d'Arnaud C, Conforto LF, Wright 3B, Cabrera SS. The Mets will instill a different look against left handed pitchers, with Juan Lagares (.259, 6, 41, .647) playing center field and Cespedes moving over to left field. Because of the Cespedes signing, DeAza becomes a very expensive pinch hitter, whom Collins will work to get some at bats. Utility infielder Eric Campbell and backup catcher Kevin Plawecki will round out the Mets bench.
The before mentioned Mets starting pitchers will be as solid of a staff in all of baseball, as long as they stay healthy. Veteran Bartolo Colon (14-13, 4.16, just less than 195 IP, 31 starts) will hold down the number five spot in the rotation until Wheeler is ready to pitch. In the event the Mets need another starting pitcher, look at them to use right hander Logan Verrett (1-2, 3.59, 39, just less than 48) or left hander Sean Gilmartin (3-2, 2.67, 54, just over 57).
Another of the big 2015 performances came at the hands of closer Jeurys Familia (2-2, 1.85, 43 saves, 86, 78), who was thrust into the role after incumbent Jenrry Mejia was suspended for the first of his three performance enhancing drug infractions. Right hander Addison Reed (3-3, 3.38, 51, 56) was acquired in August of last season and will be sharing eight inning duties with Bastardo. Left hander Jerry Blevins is back after a freak injury costed him most of 2015 and he will be in charge of getting left hand batters out. Right hand pitcher Hansel Robles (4-3, 3.67, 61, 54) will be a main cog in the pen, but there should be some caution. In addition to some mental issues the Mets have to be concerned with, Robles remind me of Guillermo Mota, a hard thrower who often became vulnerable. Jim Henderson, the former Milwaukee Brewers closer in 2013, has made the team and looks to regain his All Star form. Verrett gets the last bullpen spot with Gilmartin the first man in from AAA.
The top two Mets prospects are both probably a year away. First baseman Dominic Smith (.305, 6, 79, .771 in Single- A St. Lucie) is just 20 years old and will at least spend the entire 2016 season in Double- A or Triple- A if he earns it. 20 year old Amed Rosario could perhaps become the Mets shortstop of the future, but he does have a ways to develop. Gavin Cecchini could get a shot at the big this season and may get an opportunity to be the everyday shortstop before Rosario, depending on how much the latter develops. Look at young pitchers Robert Gsellman, Gabriel Ynoa and Rainy Lara to become some organizational depth and would all be looked at differently if it wasn't for the ones in the major leagues already.
Las Vegas has the Mets at 89.5 for their over/ under, their highest expected number since 2009. I think the Mets should be considered favorites to win the NL East but we should precede with caution. We should see the best out of the Nationals this season, but I think the Mets, right now, have a better roster. I think the Mets will finish the season at 91-71, first place in the National League East.